Millions expected to travel for Thanksgiving despite health officials’ warnings against family gatherings


CHICAGO — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging people to limit holiday gatherings and stay home for Thanksgiving, but lines at airports Tuesday show many people are getting out of town anyways. 

Travel expert Scott Keyes says air travel will be down significantly from last year, when some 26 million Americans took to the skies. This year, just 6 million people are expected to fly during Thanksgiving week

“It’s going top be an interesting travel week because historically Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel times of the year, and even in a pandemic it’s shaping up to be one of the busiest air travel periods of the entire pandemic,” Keyes said.

While fewer people are flying this year than in the past, according to a survey from AAA nearly half of all people who said they plan on traveling this week indicated they would be driving.

Chicagoan Brandon Fox said while he considered canceling, he’s flying to Atlanta and will be parked for Thanksgiving dinner with his family.

“We’re actually going to eat in the garage in Atlanta; that’s the difference, it’s warmer there,” Fox said. “Grandma’s going to have a mask on, I don’t care what she says.”

He’s one of millions weighing the tough decision of whether to cancel or go ahead with travel plans and Thanksgiving gatherings as the country sees rising COVID-19 cases virtually everywhere.

There were long lines at Midway Tuesday and a somewhat lighter crowd at O’Hare Tuesday afternoon, while major airlines like United and American have reported an increase in cancellations.  

Keyes said the number of cancellations and changes has spiked over the past couple of weeks.

“A lot of people maybe booked their Thanksgiving plans weeks ago, months ago, and just now seeing the numbers surging and seeing the amount of hospitalizations really going up, people are having second thoughts about whether they should travel for Thanksgiving,” Keyes said.

Some said the smaller crowds at airports made traveling feel safer.

“I think it’s nice that there’s not that many people to get through security faster and you’re not crowded, so you’re always maintaining distance to other people,” traveler Anna Delscith said.

Illinois Tech student Elena Esparcia-Canava said with campus closing she had no choice but to head home to Spain.  

“It’s kind of like a ‘must do’ that we cannot avoid, so we will just try to be careful,” Esparcia-Canava said.

Others say it’s not the travel that’s concerning this week, it’s whether people will be responsible once they get where they’re going.

“If I was scared about anything, I’d be worried about Black Friday, not Thanksgiving,” traveler Gregory Appleton said.


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