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TSA reporting highest passenger numbers since the pandemic emptied skies in March

Nov. 22, 2020
3 min read
TSA reporting highest passenger numbers since the pandemic emptied skies in March
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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.

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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."

Related: CDC recommends staying home for the holidays — Here’s what to do if you may cancel your travel plans

Those "hard decisions" include shelving Thanksgiving travel plans, according to the CDC.

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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.

Related: A complete list of airline coronavirus change and cancellation policies

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

Featured image by (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

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  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
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Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees