Richmond Times-Dispatch

Some Virginians opting to travel for Thanksgivi­ng despite pleas

Richmond airport recently saw busiest day since start of coronaviru­s pandemic

- BY GREGORY J. GILLIGAN

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.

 ?? ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/ TIMES-DISPATCH ?? A line of passengers arrived Tuesday at the Spirit Airlines check-in counter at Richmond Internatio­nal Airport.
ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/ TIMES-DISPATCH A line of passengers arrived Tuesday at the Spirit Airlines check-in counter at Richmond Internatio­nal Airport.
 ?? ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/ TIMES-DISPATCH ?? Although recent passenger activity at Richmond Internatio­nal has improved, an official says traffic“is a far cry froma year ago.”
ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/ TIMES-DISPATCH Although recent passenger activity at Richmond Internatio­nal has improved, an official says traffic“is a far cry froma year ago.”
 ?? ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/ TIMES-DISPATCH ?? Passenger trafficwas busy Tuesday at RIC and is expected to be again onWednesda­y.
ALEXA WELCH EDLUND/ TIMES-DISPATCH Passenger trafficwas busy Tuesday at RIC and is expected to be again onWednesda­y.

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