Despite warnings, millions stick to Thanksgiving travel plans

Millions of Americans are taking to the skies and the roads ahead of Thanksgiving, despite the government's pleas to skip holiday travel. This means many airports are busier than they've been since the start of the pandemic.

TSA officials said Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and the Sunday following it are expected to the busiest travel days.

According to Tampa International Airport, they’re expecting about half of the traffic that they saw this time last year. While airport travel across the country is down as well, health experts are concerned about the millions of Americans who are flying to this week despite CDC warnings.

The CDC has not only recommended canceling travel plans, but they’ve also warned about any gatherings with people outside their households

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"I know that this is a lot to ask," said Michael Hoffman, an Illinois health official, "but, a virtual, safe Thanksgiving will prevent an ICU Christmas."

The CDC says if you are still planning to gather with extended family and loved ones for Thanksgiving, you should do everything you can to mitigate the risk of airborne transmission: host your gathering outside, spread everyone apart for social distancing, open up doors and windows to improve air circulation and encourage guests to bring their own food, drinks, plates, and utensils.

New cases of the virus in the U.S. have rocketed to all-time highs, averaging more than 170,000 per day, and deaths have soared to over 1,500 a day, the highest level since the spring. The virus is blamed for more than a quarter-million deaths in the U.S. and over 12 million confirmed infections.

“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.

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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.

The nation’s top infectious-diseases 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.”

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.

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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.

More people tend to drive than fly over Thanksgiving, but even car travel is expected to see a drop-off, according to AAA. Based on surveys in mid-October, the association was expecting 47.8 million people to drive to Thanksgiving gatherings, down 4% from last year. But AAA said the drop could prove to be even bigger, given the worsening crisis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.