Millions Traveling For Christmas 2020 and The Holidays Despite CDC Warnings
Despite the CDC urging Americans to stay home for the holidays, millions are flying every day. That aligns with our recent survey showing 85,337,090 Americans will travel for Christmas. Our survey also showed that nearly 46 million Americans will fly this holiday season.
On Monday, TSA Spokesperson Lisa Farbstein announced over 1 million people were screened at airports nationwide on Sunday, December 20. That marks the third day in a row the TSA has screened over 1 million passengers. With Christmas only a few days away, it is likely that the figure rises daily.
According to the Associated Press, the TSA had not screened 1 million passengers in a day since November 29. While holiday airport traffic is down from last year, the numbers are still concerning with COVID-19 cases rising. The effects of Thanksgiving travel are still not fully known, but experts are worried about spikes. From December 13 through December 20, there were over 1.6 million new cases.
According to our survey, nearly 75 million Americans were expected to travel during Thanksgiving. With 85 million projected for Christmas, airport numbers should be even higher during the coming week. Here are airport traffic numbers on important holiday travel days in 2020 compared to 2019, per the TSA.
|2020||Same Weekday (2019)||% Change|
|12/20 – 1,064,619||2,519,399||– 57.74%|
|12/19 – 1,073,563||2,487,987||– 56.85%|
|12/18 – 1,066,747||2,608,088||– 59.10%|
|12/17 – 846,934||2,471,408||– 65.73%|
|11/29 – 1,176,091||2,882,915||– 59.20%|
|11/28 – 964,630||2,648,268||– 63.58%|
|11/27 – 820,399||1,968,137||– 58.30%|
|11/26 – 560,902||1,591,158||– 64.75%|
|11/25 – 1,070,967||2,624,250||– 59.19%|
If Christmas is anything like Thanksgiving (November 26), we should expect further spikes in travelers beginning December 22. Another wave will begin around December 27 as travelers return home.
How Dangerous is Air Travel Right Now?
By itself, flying on an airplane is not that dangerous, according to the CDC. Viruses, including COVID-19, do not spread easily on flights because of how air is circulated and filtered. Additionally, masks are required by all domestic airlines. Some airlines, including Delta, will continue to block middle seats through March 30, 2021. Many airlines are also not serving alcohol and have limited food options available, which further decreases the time passengers will have their masks off.
The problem with air travel comes from everything else. Passengers not social distancing before the flight and when lining up, limited social distancing on rideshare and airport pickup services, and eating out more when away from home. Additionally, many Americans will travel to visit family on Christmas, where large indoor gatherings will have limited social distancing, many people, and no masks.
How to Stay Safe If You Have to Fly
Driving remains the safest way to travel during Christmas and the holiday season, but flying may be necessary in some cases. If you have to fly, here are a few tips to stay safe.
Choose an Airline That Blocks Middle Seats – Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Only Delta (through March 30, 2021) and Alaska Airlines (through January 6, 2021) are blocking middle seats. If Delta and Alaska Airlines are flying to your destination, you should choose them. If they are not, you may be stuck sitting next to someone else if the flight is fairly full. You also have the option to purchase an empty middle seat, but that can get very expensive.
Choose a Wider Plane – Due to how air is circulated, planes are considered fairly safe when it comes to COVID-19 spread. Regardless, it may make sense to choose a larger plane. This is not always possible depending on your destination, but we recommend using SeatGuru before selecting your flight. It will tell you exactly how large your plane is, so you can see if it has rows of two or three.
Get Tested Before Your Flight – Getting a COVID-19 test before your flight is a great way to keep others safe. This is especially true if you are flying to attend a large Christmas gathering. While tests are harder to come by these days, many airports are offering COVID-19 tests on site.
Drive to the Airport Yourself and Rent a Car – Consider driving to the airport instead of using a taxi or rideshare service. This will allow you to minimize your time with a stranger in a small space. After landing, you should also consider renting a car instead of relying on rideshare and taxi services.
Use TSA PreCheck – While it may be too late to get approved for TSA PreCheck before any 2020 holiday flights, current members should use the service. Crowding in long lines in traditional security lanes is one of the higher risk activities at the airport. Even if you cannot get approved before this year’s holiday season, we recommend signing up for TSA PreCheck for the next time you fly.
The Vacationer’s Final Thoughts
While the new COVID-19 vaccines are great news, they, unfortunately, will take many months to make a difference. For example, the state of New Jersey hopes to vaccinate 70% of its adults in the next six months. That means Christmas and holiday travel for 2020 remain high-risk activities. If you do fly, try and choose an airline that blocks middle seats. Remember to keep your mask on the entire time at the airport and on the plane.
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