Busiest travel holiday, half of normal volume because of COVID-19

Local Coronavirus Coverage

A passenger wears personal protective equipment on a Delta Airlines flight as a map depicting the spread of COVID-19 is displayed on a monitor after landing at Minneapolis−Saint Paul International Airport, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Sunday after Thanksgiving is typically the busiest travel day of the year, but with COVID-19 keeping many people at home this year it’s only around half of what AAA is used to seeing.

With 47.8 million people traveling for Thanksgiving this year, according to AAA, only 2.4 million flew. The Nashville International Airport says that’s about half of what it was last year.

“Wednesday and Sunday are the busier days traditionally during the holidays. The day before Thanksgiving and as people are returning from the holiday to where they traveled from. But we definitely saw an uptick, I would say between 12 and 14 thousand people departing BNA on Wednesday, same is what we’re expecting tomorrow,” BNA Spokesperson Kym Gerlock said.

BNA was still prepared for all passengers at the airport. Extra security lines were opened and surfaces were sanitized regularly.

Gerlock said despite the reduction of holiday travel, it’s still growth from what the airport saw earlier this year.

“When things first started probably in April we were at about 95-percent passengers since that same time year over year. Typically spring is a busy time, certainly it was not.  Gradually we’ve seen the number progress, but I would say that again Thanksgiving has been busy. Certainly people are traveling. But it’s not the number we normally see,” Gerlock said.

With people working and learning remotely these days, AAA estimates people may be staying with family longer this holiday season than the typical few days to a week.

“So typically we do see a lot of activity, a lot of travel on the weekend after Thanksgiving.  This year with so many people working remotely and also schools being virtual, it’s hard to tell if we’re going to have all of those travelers coming back this weekend or if they will trickle back home over the week,” AAA Tennessee Public Relations Director Stephanie Milani said.

Milani estimates Christmas and New Year’s holidays will be similar to Thanksgiving, where plans are fluid and constantly changing.

“What we were seeing is a lot of people who were planning to travel in the middle of October, they may have taken a wait and see approach with different restrictions, adding travel restrictions, and social distancing restrictions. So even some of those people that said they were going to travel, they may have cancelled their plans at the last minute because of the pandemic,” Milani said.

Gas prices, AAA said, are also down compared to last year. A study by the company showed those that were comfortable enough to travel for the holiday wanted to do so in their own vehicles.

“A lot of people said they were more comfortable traveling now than they were say in the spring or early summer just because we know more about the pandemic. But overwhelmingly the majority said they won’t feel comfortable traveling fully until we have a handle on the pandemic, until there’s a vaccine, until those cases start trending back downward. So there are a lot of barriers to travel right now,” Milani said.

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