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: Brace yourself for a busy Thanksgiving travel week on the roads and in airports — thanks to COVID-19 vaccinations

Americans are traveling like it’s 2019. So be prepared for the inevitable headaches at the airport and on the road.

After the pandemic derailed many families’ holiday plans last year, the large number of Americans who are vaccinated against COVID-19 means that many Americans are returning to their usual Thanksgiving traditions. And that means there will be crowds at the airport once again.

Thanksgiving flight bookings are just 1% below 2019 levels, according to data from Adobe. Compared with last year, bookings are up 70%. Adobe considered any flights between Nov. 20 and Nov. 25 to be Thanksgiving trips for the purpose of its analysis.

“‘Travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday.’”

— Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel

Data from AAA suggests that 53.4 million people will travel for Thanksgiving, whether by road or by plane. That was within 5% of pre-pandemic levels for this time of year, and AAA said air travel had almost completely rebounded.

“This Thanksgiving, travel will look a lot different than last year,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in the report. “Now that the borders are open and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holiday.”

Of the more than 53 million people expected to be traveling for Turkey Day, over 48 million are predicted to hit the roads, AAA noted. With so many people planning holiday road trips, demand for gas has surged. That pushed the average price of gas close to record levels for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Headaches are likely at the airport

This holiday week will be a major test of airlines’ operations. Most airlines had to take steps last year to ground aircraft and reduce staff when travel demand plummeted to stem the hemorrhaging of money. Many carriers have faced challenges in getting back up to speed, particularly because many employees opted for early retirements over the course of the pandemic.

That’s left the airlines with very little slack from an operational perspective. As a result, something like a bad storm in one city could have an outsized domino effect, causing major delays and cancellations nationwide. Plus, travel experts have said that the holidays are already a difficult time for staffing, since many employees want to take time off to spend with family themselves.

So far, the worst fears about a major wave of cancellations have yet to come to fruition. On Sunday, there were only around 4,500 delays and less than 100 cancellations for flights within, in or out of the United States, according to data from FlightAware. Meteorologists had warned last week that two storm systems early this week could hamper flights.

“If you’re traveling today and you live along the Eastern Seaboard, you may run into a couple of delays,” Ari Sarsalari, a meteorologist with The Weather Channel, said in a Thanksgiving travel update, citing patches of rain. And a storm in the Northwest could affect travel there.

Health officials worry about a post-holiday COVID wave

Public-health officials raised concerns about the large number of people expected to travel this week, in light of high case counts. The U.S. is still averaging more than 1,100 deaths a day, according to a New York Times tracker, and the numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising.

“There is concern that the rate of infection spreading is already so high as we head into the holiday season,” said Amber D’Souza, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told The Hill in an interview. “We’re definitely headed into our next surge.”

Importantly, most cases and deaths have occurred among unvaccinated people. On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said it was OK for families to celebrate the holiday without masks if everyone is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Get vaccinated and you can enjoy the holidays very easily. And if you’re not, please be careful,” Fauci said during an appearance on CNN.

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