Thanksgiving travelers take flight despite health warnings

Gone are the long lines for airport security, the emergency traffic welcoming visiting family members on Thanksgiving, and the chaotic ritual of jostling among crowds to retrieve luggage.

As Thanksgiving holiday week began on Saturday, Bay Area airports were quiet, at times nearly empty – perhaps an encouraging sign that travelers are heeding calls from health officials to avoid family reunions. who could risk new infections amid a nationwide coronavirus outbreak.

Yet tens of thousands of Californians are expected to fly and millions more hit the roads and rails this week despite the warnings.

Jennifer Barlow said she spoke to her family about precautions to take before her flight from San Francisco International to visit family in Louisiana – including a father at higher risk of COVID-19 due to a pacemaker.

“They wanted me to take a COVID test before I left and when I arrived,” Barlow said, adding that she was able to take a test because of her insurance. And for dinner, “we’ll be outside and six feet apart.”

She looks forward to Thanksgiving dinner, especially Grandma’s Stuffing, as well as seeing her family, including cousins ​​who will be at the dinner.

“Otherwise, I would be here alone,” she said.

On Saturday, many travelers felt confident protocols were in place to secure travel and that the measures they had planned before or after their flight would protect loved ones.

“I really considered driving, but it’s just a lot easier to fly,” said Cameron Janzen, a nursing student who took a full flight from Los Angeles to Oakland International on Saturday.

Janzen, who has been following the news of the recent outbreak, said he didn’t feel too nervous about reuniting for Thanksgiving with his extended family, which includes his parents, siblings and step-in-law. family, as well as a niece and a nephew.

“I am often tested and I try to stay as safe as possible,” he said.

It remains to be seen how many potential travelers feel confident enough to take to the skies. Mineta San José International Airport expects about 125,000 travelers between November 20 and 30, less than a quarter of the record-breaking 546,000 Thanksgiving travelers who passed through the airport during the same Thanksgiving period. last year.

“Safety is the only message we want to send to travelers right now,” John Aitken, airport aviation director, said in a statement. “We are confident in the steps our teams have put in place, but cannot stress enough the importance of planning to follow safety protocols during the trip.”

A spokesperson for San Francisco International said there was too much uncertainty to make a prediction, but the airport handles about a quarter of the passengers it normally handles at this time of year. Last year, 491,690 travelers passed through the airport during Thanksgiving week, up from 500,317 in 2018. Oakland International has not released any travel forecasts, but the 363,952 passengers who crossed it in October accounted for about a third. the number of travelers in October. 2019, according to a press release.

Overall, Thanksgiving travel is expected to decline 13% in California, to 6.2 million – the 10% expected decline in Thanksgiving travel nationwide is the largest since the Great Recession of 2008, according to AAA Northern California. The number of air travelers is expected to fall by almost half to around 435,600. Travel by bus, train or cruise is expected to fall by three-quarters to around 47,000 people.

Nearly 5.8 million travelers are expected to drive, down 7% from 2019. The non-profit automobile club warned that Wednesday would likely be the busiest day on the roads.

“For those who are planning to take a trip, the majority will go by car, which provides the flexibility to change vacation travel plans up to the day of departure,” AAA Northern California spokesperson said. , Sergio Avila, in a statement.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – NOVEMBER 21: Logan Herman waits for his family to pick him up at San Francisco International Airport after returning from college in Portland, Oregon on Saturday, November 21, 2020 (Karl Mondon / Bay Area News Group )

These conditions quickly evolved amid a third wave of cases nationwide. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently warned that “the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with.” And on Saturday, a new limited curfew went into effect in California counties in the state’s purple level, closing non-essential work, travel and gatherings from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Despite the warnings and the increase in the number of cases, the allure of family and a home-cooked meal, as well as weariness after months under coronavirus restrictions, have made the risks of travel and gathering valid for many.

Among them was Dallas resident Mumbi Maina, whose trip to Oakland International was actually her second visit to California last month. And she’s preparing to fly to her home country, Kenya, before Christmas.

“We pray for the best, really,” Maina said. “I really try to live life. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen, but I want to enjoy my life and not be pressured. Life is short.

For Logan Herman, a freshman at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, going home for vacation was never in question.

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