CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Millions of Americans took to the skies and the highways for Thanksgiving despite the risk of amplifying the coronavirus pandemic and disregarding warnings from health experts that people stay home and limit their holiday gatherings to members of their own household.
Those who are flying witnessed a distinctly 2020 landscape at the nation’s airports during what is traditionally one of the busiest travel periods of the year: plexiglass barriers in front of the ID stations, rapid virus testing sites inside terminals, and paperwork asking them to quarantine on arrival at their destination.
While the number of Americans traveling by air over the past several days was down dramatically from the same time last year, plenty of others pressed ahead with their holiday plans amid increasing deaths, hospitalizations and confirmed infections across the U.S.
Many were tired of more than eight months of social distancing and determined to spend time with loved ones.
“I think with the holidays and everything, it’s so important right now, especially because people are so bummed out because of the whole pandemic,” said 25-year-old Cassidy Zerkle of Phoenix, who flew to Kansas City, Missouri, to visit family.
She brought snacks and her own hand sanitizer and said the flight was half full. She had a row of seats to herself.
“As long as you’re maintaining your distance, you’re not touching stuff and you’re sanitizing your hands, people should see their families right now,” she said.
Meanwhile, a passenger on an American Airlines flight from Atlanta to Charlotte, North Carolina Tuesday, complained of the lack of social distancing on the aircraft. Video shows people shoulder to shoulder with little to no social distancing in place.
American Airlines did not return a request for comment by the time of publication.
The coronavirus is blamed for more than 12.6 million confirmed coronavirus infections and over 269,000 deaths in the U.S. according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local authorities have begged people not to travel and urged them to keep their Thanksgiving celebrations small.
“That’ll make sure that your extended family are around to celebrate Christmas and to celebrate the holidays next year,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said.
About 1 million people per day passed through U.S. airport checkpoints from Friday through Tuesday, a drop-off of around 60% from the same time a year ago. Still, those have been the biggest crowds since the COVID-19 crisis took hold in the U.S. in March.
Last year, a record 26 million passengers and crew passed through U.S. airport screening in the 11-day period around Thanksgiving.
More Americans drive than fly during the holiday, but AAA has projected those numbers are also likely to be lower this year.
Many states and cities have adopted precautions. Travelers to Los Angeles, either by plane or train, were required to fill out an online form acknowledging California’s request that people quarantine for two weeks after arrival in the state.
Anne Moore, a 60-year-old woman from Chicago, flew to Albany, New York, to be with her daughter for the holiday. Her daughter is a senior at Dartmouth University, and Moore and her husband were worried about her driving back to Illinois by herself.
Before the spike, the family had planned to hold a Thanksgiving gathering of fewer than 10 people. But instead it will be just Moore, her husband and her daughter.
“I have friends who are alone. And I’m not inviting them. And I feel badly about that,” she said. “We’ll take a walk or something instead. But yeah, the three of us are isolating.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report