US air travel hits a pandemic-era high over Thanksgiving holiday

More people passed through US airport security checkpoints on Sunday than on any other single day since the coronavirus pandemic cratered air travel, according to the Transportation Security Administration.



a group of people standing in front of a crowd: SEATAC, WA - NOVEMBER 29: Travelers pass through security screening at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on November 29, 2020 in SeaTac, Washington. Public health experts warn that COVID-19 cases may surge following holiday travel, as the U.S. surpasses 4 million cases so far this month. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)


© David Ryder/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
SEATAC, WA – NOVEMBER 29: Travelers pass through security screening at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on November 29, 2020 in SeaTac, Washington. Public health experts warn that COVID-19 cases may surge following holiday travel, as the U.S. surpasses 4 million cases so far this month. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

TSA said it screened 1.17 million people on Sunday when many Americans were heading home from their Thanksgiving travels. That was 41% of the 2.9 million people screened by TSA on the same day in 2019. Thanksgiving 2019 set a TSA record.

That means more than 9.4 million people have been screened in the Thanksgiving travel window, which began on the Friday before the holiday.

Since the pandemic gutted air travel in mid-March, checkpoints have screened more than one million passengers on only five days. Four occurred over the Thanksgiving holiday period.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against Thanksgiving travel, fearing families mingling would spread the virus.

Public health officials this weekend recommended those who did travel for Thanksgiving should quarantine themselves and get tested for the coronavirus as cases surge nationwide.

White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said Sunday she is “deeply worried” Thanksgiving travel will cause another virus spike.

“We know people may have made mistakes … over the Thanksgiving time period,” she said in a Sunday interview on CBS. “If your family traveled, you have to assume that you are exposed and you became infected and you really need to get tested in the next week.”

Airlines have argued travel on an airplane is very safe — safer than being in many other public spaces — because of hospital-grade air filtration and ventilation that regularly replaces air in the cabin.

But there has been less study about other parts of the air travel experience — including crowded airport lines and shuttle buses.

And then there’s the risk of spread when travelers arrive at their destination.

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