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Did Americans Travel Less During Thanksgiving Due To COVID Concerns?

KEY POINTS

  • Airline travel for Thanksgiving weekend was down 60% compared to last year, with 1.2 million flying Sunday despite CDC warnings, leaving airlines and public health officials with conflicting interpretations
  • Public health officials have begged Americans not to fly home during the most severe COVID-19 month on record
  • Meanwhile airlines lamented the low numbers, revising revenue projections down and warning that the industry would not recover linearly

Data from the TSA indicates that millions of Americans flew home for Thanksgiving despite frantic warnings from health officials desperate to stop the oncoming wave of resultant deaths. The overall reduction of 60%, however, was less than the floundering airline industry had been hoping for, reports CNBC.

Numbers leading up to Thanksgiving suggested that many people were ignoring CDC recommendations and flying home to their family during a rapidly worsening second wave of COVID-19. More than 984,000 people traveled the weekend before Thanksgiving, just over 1 million less than before that pandemic but undoubtedly far more than health officials had hoped.

Easyjet planes stand idle as the company reported its first ever annual loss due to the coronavirus pandemic Easyjet planes stand idle as the company reported its first ever annual loss due to the coronavirus pandemic Photo: AFP / Odd ANDERSEN

Those working to halt the pandemic were clear about the risks of holiday travel. The CDC released recommendations that people find alternatives to in-person visits, but some doctors put it in starker terms.

“The tragedy that could happen from coming together is one of your family members could end up hospitalized and severely ill, or dying. We don’t want to see that happen,” said Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incidents manager.

Despite these warnings, and cautions that airport COVID-19 screenings wouldn’t do much to contain the spread of the virus, 1.2 million people flew on Sunday alone. That’s a significant drop from last year’s 2.9 million. 

The airline industry was also displeased but for very financial reasons. The lackluster showing compared to last year meant that airlines fell short in an important travel period. Despite their preparations and the disappointing turnout, the surge was still enough to force Delta Air Lines to cancel hundreds of flights due to a lack of pilots with American and United compensating their employees to entice them into extra work.

Some airlines scaled back projections, with JetBlue Airways shifting profit expectations down a further 5% to show a 70% loss in fourth-quarter revenue. Projected cash losses per day rose $2 million from $4-6 million to $6-8 million.

“Booking trends remain volatile and the company continues to believe demand and revenue recovery will be non-linear through the fourth quarter and beyond,” read a Jet Blue securities filing. 

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