Despite travel warnings, millions expected to travel for the holidays

More than one million people have already passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints to spend the holidays with loved ones, despite warnings from health officials.

It marks the first time U.S. airports have screened more than 1 million passengers since Nov. 29. That came at the end of a Thanksgiving weekend that saw far more travel around the country than had been hoped as the weather turned colder and COVID-19 cases were already spiking again.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an advisory declaring "postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19."

Nevertheless, about 1.07 million people passed through the security checkpoints at U.S. airports on Friday and again on Saturday, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

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Saturday’s volume was down 57% from the same time last year, the smallest year-over-year decline in daily traffic at U.S. airports since Nov. 22 as people began their Thanksgiving getaways.

Some states are requiring travelers to have proof of a negative test before arrival and many have rules about self-quarantining upon arrival. 

Passengers at Tampa International Airport can get tested in the airport, and airport officials are encouraging travelers to get tested for COVID-19 before they travel. Both rapid and PCR tests are available inside the terminal. Those wanting a PCR test should come a few days before they fly in order to get the results back before their departure.

Several airlines instituted policies during the pandemic that kept middle seats empty and flights from reaching full capacity, but for some like Southwest, those temporary policies have ended.

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Even with cases rising across the country, and the U.S. experiencing its largest outbreak since March, travelers at TPA told FOX 13 they feel safe getting on a flight.

"I feel like vaccines are out now and healthcare workers are getting it," said Donna Morrison. "Fewer people are going to be able to get the virus because they're vaccinated."

"So far, it seems pretty safe," said Meg Morrison. "I mean people are staying their distance wearing masks. I felt pretty comfortable flying here."

Masks are a definite requirement for those getting on a flight. One is needed while inside TPA and on the plane. 

The seven-day rolling average of newly reported infections in the U.S. has risen from about 176,000 a day just before Thanksgiving to more than 215,000 a day. It’s too early to calculate how much of that increase is due to travel and gatherings over Thanksgiving, but experts believe they are a factor.

Even more travel is expected as Christmas draws closer. AAA projects about 85 million people will travel between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3, most of them by car. That would be a drop of nearly one-third from a year ago, but still a massive movement of people in the middle of a pandemic.