Like airports across the country, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has seen a sharp drop in traffic this year due to COVID-19, and the number of vacationers is expected to be half of last year. But millions across the country will still be traveling for Thanksgiving week. (Photo of Allie Barton/ Cronkite news)

WASHINGTON – Thanksgiving travel is expected to decline sharply this year due to COVID-19, but despite requests from health experts to stay home, up to 50 million Americans are still expected this week.

And those who travel could face a confusing set of limitations when reaching their destination, experts say.

“It is important to understand the risks involved and ways to protect yourself and others,” the AAA said in its annual Thanksgiving Travel Outlook. “In addition to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines, travelers should also observe local and state travel restrictions, including testing requirements and quarantine orders.”

The AAA forecast predicts an overall decline of at least 10% of holiday travelers from 55 million last year to just over 50 million this year.

But that’s still a lot of people and officials are making changes to allow safe travel in times 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 on Monday announced a partnership with XpresSpa Group Inc., a health and wellness company that has put in place a COVID-19 solution Testing system in a former acute care clinic in Terminal 4. The six test rooms should be able to handle more than 400 travelers per day.

“These services will help restore a bit of normalcy and comfort to the aviation industry by adding an extra layer of security and convenience,” said Kate Gallego, Mayor of Phoenix, when the service was unveiled on Monday.

Most people will still travel by car, motivated by low gasoline prices and COVID-19 fears. But the 47.8 million expected to take to the streets is 4.3% less than last 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, with a 47.5% decrease to an estimated 2.4 million for this Thanksgiving holiday, and bus, train and cruise travel expected to decrease 76.2% to 353,000 travelers become.

The Transportation Security Administration data showed that the number of people passing 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 could 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 limit travel even more than they expect.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated the wrong city for Susan’s travel service in Count 22. The store is in Cave Creek. The story here has been corrected, but customers who have used previous versions are asked to make the fix found here.

“The wait and see travel trend continues to influence final travel decisions, especially for Thanksgiving,” 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 chance of catching and spreading COVID-19,” the CDC website states. “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 contain the spread of COVID-19. These recommendations were made by the Arizona Health department Services that added a proposal only possible in a state with Arizona’s climate – Outdoor Meetings.

“Arizona and our nation remain in a public health emergency,” Governor Doug Ducey said last week during an update on COVID-19 in the state. “That was 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 require masks. But Arizona enforces other restrictions, like social distancing and reduced indoor dining space, like many states do.

Arizona does not quarantine travelers from other states. But many states – including California, Oregon, and Washington – have recommended that travelers outside of the state be quarantined for 14 days after they arrive. Experts say this year travelers need to plan ahead more than ever.

Susan Green, owner of Susan’s Travel Services in Cave Creek, was making a blatant pitch for her industry at the time, saying travel agents are up to date with the ever-changing COVID-19 protocols in different states and countries.

She also said that professionals would be more likely to get travelers to add some type of “cancellation for any reason” insurance 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 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 going on vacation, now is the time to start planning for next year with reputable travel resources.

“Don’t be afraid, we will get off again and we will not make anyone go to a place they don’t want to go,” she said. “But take this time to learn and educate yourself well.”