Some Virginians opting to travel for Thanksgiving despite pleas
Richmond airport recently saw busiest day since start of coronavirus pandemic
Despite government warnings to stay home, some Virginians are traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday. But the number of residents traveling this week is expected to be dramatically lower than in years past.
Richmond International Airport said more travelers used the airport on a single day this past Friday than any other day since the coronavirus pandemic started in March. Passenger traffic was busy Tuesday and is expected to be again on Wednesday.
“The volume has picked up, but it still is a far cry from a year ago,” airport spokesman Troy Bell said, noting that passenger traffic at Richmond International Airport is down more than 60% from a year ago as the airline industry continues to suffer dramatic passenger declines because of the pandemic.
About 1 million Americans a day packed U.S. airports and planes over the weekend even as coronavirus deaths surged across the U.S. and public health experts begged people to stay home and avoid big Thanksgiving gatherings.
The crowds are only expected to grow. This coming Sunday is likely to be the busiest day of the holiday period.
But a new survey conducted by the travel organization AAA showed that 84% of Virginia residents say they planned to stay home this Thanksgiving holiday. The survey also indicated that 41% of respondents say they are staying home because of COVID-19 concerns. The survey was conducted Nov. 12 and Nov. 13— about a month later than when AAA typically does the travel questionnaire.
“This is not a typical year in any way and Thanksgiving travel is no different as people navigate all of the facts that are involved in making the best decision for their families when it comes to traveling this Thanksgiving,” said Martha M. Meade, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Fewer people traveling is a significant shift from previous years. Last year, for instance, AAA predicted about 1.5 million Virginians would travel during the Thanksgiving holiday — marking the second-highest travel volume for the Thanksgiving holiday period since 2000.
That won’t be the case this year, Meade said, as this will be the first Thanksgiving in more than a decade that fewer people plan to travel for the holiday when compared to the previous year.
“What we are seeing is a lot of people are waiting until the last minute to make the decision to
travel because things are changing by the day,” she said.
Not everyone is staying home, she and other officials said. Roadways and airports might be more crowded than in previous months, but the volume will be a far cry from previous years.
If Virginians do travel, 82% of them are expected to drive to their destination, according to the survey, while 12% of the respondents said they plan to fly.
“Driving gives an added con
trol of your own environment and allows you to make those last-minute decisions,” she said.
Meade advised travelers who are driving to plan to take a route that minimizes the number of stops and to pack snacks, drinks and hand sanitizers. Also, travelers should check restrictions, such as quarantines, in place for visitors to other states.
The number of people fly
ing for Thanksgiving is down by more than half from last year because of the rapidly worsening outbreak.
However, the 3 million who went through U.S. airport checkpoints from Friday through Sunday marked the biggest crowds since mid-March, when the COVID-19 crisis took hold in the United States.
Many travelers are unwilling to miss out on seeing family and are convinced they can do it safely. Also, many colleges have ended their in-person classes, propelling students to returnhome.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel or spend the holiday with people outside their household, as new cases of the virus in the U.S. have rocketed to all-time highs.
“There is so much community transmission all over the United States that the chances of you encountering somebody that has COVID-19 is actually very, very high, whether it’s on an airplane, at the airport or at a rest area,” said Dr. Syra Madad, an infectious-disease epidemiologist for New York City hospitals.
The nation’s top infectiousdiseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that people at airports “are going to get us into even more trouble than we’re in right now.”
The message might be sinking in for some.
Bookings in 2020 are down about 60% from where they were this time last year. Thanksgiving reservations were ticking upward in early October but fell back again as case numbers surged.
Since airlines have made it easier to cancel tickets, there could be a rash of cancellations closer to the holiday, said John Elder, an adviser to airlines from Boston Consulting Group.
In 2019, a record 26 million passengers and crew passed through U.S. airport screening in the 11-day period around Thanksgiving. This year, the industry trade group Airlines for America isn’t even providing a forecast because things are so uncertain.
The holidays close out a bleak year for U.S. travel. Travel spending is expected to drop 45% from 2019 levels, to $617 billion, according to the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group.
Canceling Thanksgiving trips is painful for many families.
Kelly Kleber usually flies from Seattle to her hometown of Tucson, Ariz., to spend the holiday with her parents. They have a picnic to celebrate the life of her sister, who died on Thanksgiving in 2015.
This year, Kleber is sending her parents a portrait of her sister and plans a video call on Thanksgiving.
“It’s going to be hard being away from family this year,” she said.