Thanksgiving travel is expected to decline sharply this year due to COVID-19, but up to 50 million Americans are expected to travel this week, despite health experts asking to stay home.
And those who travel may encounter confusing limitations in reaching their destinations, experts say.
“It is important to understand the risks involved and ways to protect yourself and others,” the AAA said in its annual Thanksgiving travelogue. “In addition to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guides, travelers should also be aware of local and state travel restrictions, including testing requirements and quarantine orders.”
The AAA forecast predicts an overall decline of at least 10% for vacationers from 55 million last year to just over 50 million this year.
But that’s still a lot of people and officials making changes to allow safe travel in a time of COVID-19.
“We have encouraged our business partners to use touchless applications whenever possible, and we encourage travelers to use mobile boarding passes whenever possible,” said Greg Roybal, a spokesman for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Sky Harbor announced a partnership with on Monday XpresSpa Group Inc., a health and wellness company that started a COVID-19 Testing system in a former emergency clinic in Terminal 4. The six test rooms should be able to accommodate more than 400 travelers per day.
“These services will help bring the aviation industry back a little more normal and comfortable by providing an extra level of security and convenience,” said Kate Gallego, Mayor of Phoenix, at the unveiling of the service on Monday.
Most people will continue to travel by car, motivated by low gas prices and COVID-19 fears. But the 47.8 million expected to take to the streets is down 4.3% year over year.
Despite the decline, Thanksgiving will still be a busy time on the highways and “Drivers should plan alternative routes and departure times to avoid traffic jams,” said Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX.
The biggest declines this year are expected to be in air travel, down 47.5% to an estimated 2.4 million this Thanksgiving Day, and bus, train and cruise travel, which is projected to decrease 76.2% to 353,000 travelers .
The Transportation Security Administration data showed that the number of people passing through checkpoints over the weekend has fallen by more than half. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport officials also said they expect traffic this year to be about 50% below last year’s daily high of 150,000 travelers at the airport.
“This year is unusual due to the pandemic, however, and there may be short-term bookings or cancellations,” said Heather Shelbrack, spokeswoman for the Phoenix Aviation Department.
AAA officials cited this uncertainty in their report, saying a spike in COVID-19 cases or new travel restrictions could cut travel even further than they expect.
“The wait and see travel trend continues to affect final travel decisions, particularly for the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, in a statement earlier this month. “The decision to travel is a personal one.”
It’s a choice that CDC officials I wish people would choose not to.
“Travel can increase your chances of receiving and spreading COVID-19,” according to the CDC website. “Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”
The CDC also recommended smaller, shorter holiday gatherings to help curb the spread of COVID-19. These recommendations were confirmed by Arizona Health department Services that added a proposal only possible in a state with an Arizona climate – outdoor gatherings.
“Arizona and our nation continue to be in a public health emergency,” said Governor Doug Ducey during an update last week on COVID-19 in the state. “It’s been a long way – but we have to redouble our efforts.”
Arizona was one of only 14 states that did not have a nationwide mask mandate as of Monday. according to AAA although the largest counties in the state need masks. But Arizona enforces other restrictions, like social distancing and reduced capacity for indoor restaurants, like many states do.
Arizona does not quarantine travelers from other states. However, many states – including California, Oregon, and Washington – have recommended quarantining travelers outside of the state for 14 days upon arrival. Experts say travelers need to plan ahead more than ever this year.
Susan Green, owner of Susan’s Travel Services in Cave Creek, was making an intrepid pitch for her industry at the time, saying travel agents are up to date with the ever-changing COVID-19 protocols that are in place in different states and countries.
She also said that professionals are more likely to encourage travelers to add some sort of “cancellation insurance for any reason” to their trips to avoid losing thousands of dollars on one trip due to a positive COVID-19 test.
“There are different types of insurance that you can buy, but 95% of travel insurance doesn’t cover COVID,” she said.
Green said that even for people who aren’t planning on traveling for the vacation, now is the time to plan for the next year with reputable travel resources.
“Don’t be afraid, we will get out again and we will not make anyone go anywhere they don’t want to go,” she said. “But take the time to learn and educate yourself well.”
Story by Josh Ortega, Cronkite News