TSA reporting highest passenger numbers since the pandemic emptied skies in March
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
On Thursday, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) pleaded with Americans to avoid travel this Thanksgiving holiday, citing the rapidly rising COVID-19 cases. But are people listening?
Early travel data says no. Nearly three million people just took to the skies on Thursday, Friday and Saturday combined, according to Transporation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoint numbers.
Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG’s free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!
That’s still less than half of the number of passengers who flew in the days leading up to Thanksgiving in 2019. But nonetheless, it’s the strongest three days since the pandemic emptied out American skies back in March.
With COVID-19 cases climbing in every part of the country, the CDC last week issued a dramatic warning: Stay home for Thanksgiving.
On Thursday, Nov. 19 — just one week before Thanksgiving — the incident manager for the CDC’s COVID-19 response, Dr. Henry Walke, told reporters that “the CDC is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving holiday.”
Walke continued to note that “we are all excited about the news regarding a vaccine, but it’s not here yet… when there are hard decisions to be made, we all must do our best to protect those around us.”
Those “hard decisions” include shelving Thanksgiving travel plans, according to the CDC.
Though early travel data shows that people may not necessarily be listening to the guidelines, the airlines are painting a different picture.
Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines have all seen the rising COVID-19 case counts hit bookings and, at least for some, increase cancellations.
“We’ve seen a dampening of demand. It really is too soon to tell how deep and how long,” American president Robert Isom said at the Skift Aviation Forum on Nov. 19. His recommendation for Thanksgiving travelers was to follow CDC guidance — though he did not acknowledge the public health organization’s stay-at-home advice.
That same day in an investor update, United attributed a “deceleration in system bookings and an uptick in cancellations” directly to the spike in new COVID-19 cases.
Though bookings may indeed be slowing, perhaps the CDC’s warning was too late to affect Thanksgiving travel plans.
With many working from home and possibly wanting to build in a quarantine buffer before visiting at-risk family or friends, location agnostic and cautious travelers alike could potentially be leaving earlier for this year’s Thanksgiving holiday, avoiding the usual mid-week “rush”.
While every major U.S. airline allows travelers to change or cancel flights without fees, for many, it’s likely too late to change plans. With the holiday week already here, making new plans on such short notice is likely too burdensome for many.
Despite the CDC’s warning, Thanksgiving is shaping up to be the busiest travel week since March.
Additional reporting Ned Russell.
Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,600
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
- Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.