DALLAS (AP) – Determined to regain Thanksgiving traditions that were halted last year by the pandemic, millions of Americans will load their cars or board planes to reunite with friends and family.
The number of air travelers this week is expected to approach or even exceed pre-pandemic levels, and the AAA car club predicts that 48.3 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home during the holiday period, an increase of almost 4 million over last year despite sharply higher petrol prices.
Many feel encouraged by the fact that nearly 200 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. But it also means that concerns about a resurgent virus must be ignored at a time when the United States now averages nearly 100,000 new infections a day, and hospitals in Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona are experiencing an alarming increase in the number of patients.
The seven-day daily average of newly reported cases rose nearly 30% in the last two weeks to Tuesday, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says unvaccinated people should not travel, although it is unclear if that recommendation has any effect.
More than 2.2 million travelers streamed through airport checkpoints last Friday, the busiest day since the pandemic ruined travel early last year. From Friday to Monday, the number of people flying in the US was more than double the same days last year and only 8% lower than the same days in 2019.
At Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Peter Titus, an engineer at Princeton University’s Plasma Physics Laboratory, was on his way to visit extended family in Canada with his wife and adult son. He had a folder with transcripts of their vaccination cards and negative COVID-19 tests needed to fly to Canada.
His son, Christian Titus, who works as a voice actor, says he has spent much of the pandemic inside but is willing to risk flying on a crowded plane because he misses being around his family. He got a booster shot to increase his protection.
“My mental health is doing better by being around my family these days,” he said. “Yes, it’s dangerous. But you love these people, so you do what you can to be safe around them.”
Meka Starling and her husband were delighted that many members of their extended family were to meet their 2-year-old son, Kaiden, for the first time at a large Thanksgiving gathering in Linden, New Jersey.
“We’ve posted pictures on Facebook so many of them have seen pictures of him, but to get to touch him and talk to him, I’m excited about it,” said Starling, 44, of West Point, Mississippi. which will gather with nearly 40 family members, all of whom agreed to be vaccinated.
For their part, the airlines hope to avoid a repeat of the massive flight cancellations – more than 2,300 each – that haunted Southwest and American Airlines at various times last month.
The crashes started with bad weather in part of the country and ran out of control. In the past, airlines had enough pilots, flight attendants and other workers to recover from many disruptions within a day or two. However, they are finding it harder to get back now because they are stretched after pushing thousands of employees to stop when the journey collapsed last year.
American, Southwest, Delta and United have all been hired recently, giving airlines and industry observers hope that planes will stay on track this week.
“Airlines are prepared for the holidays,” said Helane Becker, an airline analyst for financial services firm Cowen. “They cut back on the number of flights, the industry has enough pilots, they put more flight attendants through their (training) academies, and they pay flight attendants a premium – what I would call dangerous duties – to encourage people not to interrupt work. “
Airlines have a small margin of error right now. American expected to fill more than 90% of its seats with paying customers on Tuesday. It is a return to holiday travel before the pandemic.
“There’s not much room to put people on another plane if something goes wrong,” said Dennis Tajer, pilot for the airline and spokesman for the American Pilots Association.
Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration rejects concerns that it may have staff shortages at airport checkpoints this week due to a requirement that federal employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. White House officials said 93% of TSA staff are complying with the mandate and they do not expect any disruption.
For holidaymakers who drive a car, the biggest pain is probably higher prices at the pump. The nationwide average for gasoline on Tuesday was $ 3.40 per gallon. gallon, according to AAA, an increase of more than 60% from last Thanksgiving.
These prices can be one of several factors that will deter some vacationers. In a survey conducted by Gasbuddy, which tracks pump prices, about half of the app users who responded said high prices will affect their travel plans this week. About two out of five said they do not travel as many trips for various reasons.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday ordered 50 million barrels of oil released from the United States Strategic Reserve to help reduce energy costs in coordination with other major energy-consuming nations. The U.S. effort is aimed at global energy markets, but also at helping Americans cope with higher inflation and rising prices ahead of Thanksgiving and winter vacations.
The price at the pump was a bit of a shock to Tye Reedy, who flew into California from Tennessee and borrowed his friend’s truck for some sightseeing. Gas ran $ 5 per gallon at the Chevron in Alameda, and it cost $ 100 to refill the truck.
“We did not travel last year due to COVID restrictions and all,” Reedy said. “But you know we’re confident enough … with the vaccine and where things are now with the virus, so you know we felt safe traveling.”
AP staff writers Ted Shaffrey, Terry Chea, and Seth Wenig of Newark, New Jersey, contributed to this report.
David Koenig can be reached at twitter.com/airlinewriter
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