On the road again: Travelers emerge in time for Thanksgiving

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Millions of Americans are loading their cars or depositing them on planes, set to reclaim Thanksgiving traditions that were put on hold by the pandemic last year

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Air passenger numbers are expected to reach or even exceed pre-pandemic levels this week, and Auto Club AAA predicts that 48.3 million people will travel at least 50 miles from home over the holiday period, up from last year. an increase of about 4 million. Despite the rise in petrol prices.

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Many feel invigorated by the fact that nearly 200 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. But it also means allaying concerns about a resurgent virus at a time when the US now averages about 100,000 new infections a day and an alarming increase in patients in hospitals in Michigan, Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona. is being viewed.

The seven-day daily average of new cases has risen nearly 30% over the past two weeks since Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says unvaccinated people should not travel, although it is not clear whether that recommendation is having any effect.

More than 2.2 million passengers flowed through airport checkpoints last Friday, the busiest day since travel ravaged by the pandemic earlier last year. From Friday to Monday, the number of fliers in the US was more than double compared to the same number of days last year and only 8% lower than the same number of days in 2019.

At Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Peter Titus, an engineer at the Princeton University Plasma Physics Laboratory, was on his way to visit extended family in Canada with his wife and adult son. He carried a printout of his vaccination card and a folder with the negative COVID-19 tests he needed to fly to Canada.

His son, Christian Titus, who works as a voice actor, says he has spent much of the pandemic indoors, but is willing to risk flying on a crowded airplane because he has to wait for his family. I miss being around. He got a booster shot to increase his defenses.

“Being around my family during these times improves my mental health,” he said. “Yeah, it’s dangerous. But you love these people, so you do everything you can to be safe around them.”

“We put pictures on Facebook so a lot of them have seen pictures of her, but to really touch and talk to her, I’m excited about it,” said Starling, 44, of West Point, Mississippi. who would gather with around 40 family members, all of whom agreed to the vaccination.

For their part, airlines are hoping to avoid a repeat of the massive flight cancellations — more than 2,300 — that affected Southwest and American Airlines at different times last month.

The breakdown started with inclement weather in one part of the country and spiraled out of control. In the past, airlines had enough pilots, flight attendants and other staff to recover from multiple disruptions within a day or two. However, they are finding it harder to bounce back now, as they have been thinned out after thousands of employees were pressured to leave when Travel collapsed last year.

American, Southwest, Delta and United have all been hiring lately, leading airlines and industry observers to expect flights to remain on track this week.

“Airlines are ready for the holidays,” said Helen Baker, an airline analyst at financial-services firm Cowen. “They’ve cut the number of flights, the industry has enough pilots, they’re putting more flight attendants through their (training) academies, and they’re paying flight attendants a premium—which I call dangerous-duty.” I’m going to say pay – encourage people not to blow up work.”

The airlines have little room for error right now. American expects to fill more than 90% of its seats with paying customers on Tuesday. It’s a throwback to pre-pandemic holiday travel.

“If something goes wrong, there isn’t much room to move people to another flight,” said Dennis Tajer, the airline’s pilot and spokesman for the American Pilots Union.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration is dismissing concerns that there could be a staff shortage at airport checkpoints this week because of a requirement that federal employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. White House officials said 93% of TSA employees are in compliance with the mandate, and they do not expect any disruption.

For vacationers traveling by car, the biggest pain is likely to be the high price at the pump. According to AAA, the nationwide average for gasoline on Tuesday was $3.40 a gallon, up more than 60% from last Thanksgiving.

Those prices could be one of several factors that will discourage some vacation travelers. In a survey conducted by GasBuddy, which tracks pump prices, nearly half of the app users who responded said higher prices would affect their travel plans this week. Two out of five said they were not traveling as much for a variety of reasons.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday ordered the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the US Strategic Reserve to help reduce energy costs, in coordination with other major energy-consuming countries. The US action is aimed at global energy markets, but to help Americans cope with high inflation and rising prices ahead of Thanksgiving and winter holiday travel.

The price of the pump was a blow to Tye Ready, who had flown from Tennessee to California and borrowed his friend’s truck for some sightseeing. Gas was running $5 a gallon at Chevron in Alameda, and it cost $100 to fill the truck.

“We didn’t travel last year because of COVID restrictions and all,” Ready said. “But you know, we are quite confident … with the vaccine and where things are now with the virus, you know, we felt comfortable traveling.”

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staff writers Ted Schaffrey, Terry Chee and Seth Wenig in Newark, New Jersey, contributed to this report.

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David Koenig can be reached at twitter.com/airlinewriter

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