Thanksgiving 2021: How Many Americans Traveled for Holiday This Year?

by Jennifer Shea
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Americans are hitting the road this Thanksgiving, pandemic or no. But the holiday is not exactly back to normal. Expensive flights, gas price hikes and pandemic-related restrictions on airplanes all serve as reminders that COVID-19 has not been defeated yet.

AAA estimates that 53.4 million Americans will travel for Thanksgiving this year, a 13 percent increase over last year, the Daily Mail reports. Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has already screened more than 10 million people between last Friday and this Tuesday. The TSA is projecting 20 million more will move through airports between now and Sunday.

Moreover, it’s not just flight prices that are climbing. Rental car rates are also through the roof, per the Daily Mail, with travelers having to pay up to 75 percent more for a rental car this holiday season.

Return to Normal Thanksgiving? Not So Fast, CDC Says

The jump in holiday travelers represents an increase to levels last seen before the start of the pandemic. With almost 200 million Americans now vaccinated, people are itching to return to the status quo ante.

But it’s a bit too early for that. Not everyone has received their COVID-19 boosters yet. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that unvaccinated people stay home this year.

Plus, the delta variant has driven case numbers back up to pandemic-era highs. The U.S. is now averaging 100,000 new infections per day. And hospitals in some states – Arizona, Colorado, Michigan, and Minnesota – are increasingly swamped with COVID patients.

Travel Will Be Different from Last Year, But Not Quite Business As Usual

Everyone is anxious to return to business as usual. And in some respects, it’s moving closer to that. Experts predicted an easing of conditions compared to 2020 and said companies like airlines have staffed up for the holidays.

“This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year,” Paula Twidale, the senior vice president of AAA Travel, told the Daily Mail. “Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holidays.”

As for the airlines, travelers have got to be hoping the recent rash of canceled flights at some airlines will not bleed over into the holiday season. American, Southwest, Delta, and United all say they’ve been hiring and plan to keep up with demand this season.

“The airlines are prepared for the holidays,” Helane Becker, an airlines analyst for financial-services firm Cowen, added. “They cut back the number of flights, the industry has enough pilots, they are putting more flight attendants through their (training) academies, and they are paying flight attendants a premium — what I’m going to call hazardous-duty pay — to encourage people not to blow off work.”

Outsider.com