Gone are the long queues for airport security, the back-up traffic greeting family members visiting Thanksgiving, and the chaotic ritual of pushing among the crowds to pick up luggage.
As Thanksgiving holiday week kicked off on Saturday, Bay Area airports were quiet, at times almost empty – perhaps an encouraging sign that travelers are following health officials’ plea to avoid family gatherings that could risk further infections amid a nationwide coronavirus wave.
Still, tens of thousands of Californians were expected to fly, and millions of others would hit roads and rails this week despite the warnings.
Jennifer Barlow said she talked to her family about the precautions to be taken before her flight out of San Francisco International to visit family in Louisiana – including a father at higher risk for COVID-19 due to a pacemaker.
“They wanted me to take a COVID test before I left and when I arrived,” Barlow said, adding that she was able to take a test through her insurance. And for dinner, “we are outside and six meters apart.”
She is looking forward to Thanksgiving dinner, especially Grandma’s filling, as well as seeing family, including some cousins who are going to be for dinner.
“Otherwise I would be here alone,” she said.
Many travelers on Saturday felt confident that protocols were in place to make the journey safe and that the steps they had planned before or after their flight would protect their relatives.
“I was definitely considering driving, but it’s just a lot easier to fly,” said Cameron Janzen, a nursing student who took a full flight from Los Angeles to Oakland International on Saturday.
Janzen, who has been following the news of the recent wave, said he does not feel too nervous to gather for Thanksgiving with the extended family, which includes his parents, siblings and in-laws as well as a niece and nephew.
“I get tested often and I try to be as safe as possible,” he said.
How many prospective travelers feel safe enough to go to heaven remains to be seen. Mineta San José International Airport expects about 125,000 travelers between November 20 and 30, less than a quarter of the record 546,000 Thanksgiving travelers who passed through the airport during the same Thanksgiving period last year.
“Safety is the only message we want to convey to travelers right now,” said John Aitken, the airport’s director of aviation, in a statement. “We are confident in the steps our team has taken, but can not overstate the importance of planning to follow safety protocols during the journey.”
A spokesman for San Francisco International said there was too much uncertainty to predict, but the airport sees about a quarter of the passengers as it normally does this time of year. Last year, 491,690 passengers flew through the airport during Thanksgiving week, down from 500,317 in 2018. Oakland International issued no travel forecasts, but the 363,952 passengers who flew through it in October were approx. a third of the number of travelers in October 2019, according to a press release.
Overall, Thanksgiving travel is expected to be down 13 percent in California to 6.2 million – the expected 10 percent drop in Thanksgiving travel nationally is the largest since the Great Recession in 2008, according to AAA Northern California. The number of flights is expected to fall by almost half to approx. 435,600. Travel by bus, train or cruise is expected to decrease by three quarters to approx. 47,000.
Nearly 5.8 million travelers are expected to drive, a 7 percent drop from 2019. The non-profit motor club warned that Wednesday would likely be the busiest day on the roads.
“For those considering taking a trip, the majority will drive a car, giving the flexibility to change vacation travel plans until the day of departure,” AAA Northern California spokesman Sergio Avila said in a statement.
These conditions have changed rapidly amid a nationwide third wave of cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently warned that “the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with.” And on Saturday, a new restricted curfew came into effect in California’s counties in the state’s purple tier and closed non-essential work, travel and gatherings from 6 p.m. 22 to kl.
Despite the warnings and increasing numbers of cases, the lure of the family and a home-cooked meal and fatigue after months under coronavirus restrictions made the risk of travel and gatherings worthwhile for many.
Among them was Dallas resident Mumbi Maina, whose trip to Oakland International was actually her second visit to California in the past month. And she is preparing to fly to her native Kenya before Christmas.
“We pray for the best, really,” Maina said. “I’m really trying to live life. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen, but I want to enjoy my life and not be limited. Life is short.
For Logan Herman, a freshman at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., Traveling home for the holidays was never something.
“I’m just really happy to see my family for Thanksgiving,” he said, adding that he will either be tested or quarantined before meeting with childhood friends.
Herman was greeted with a warm hug by his masked mother, Dawn Herman, who said it was “amazing” to have her son at home where they will celebrate Thanksgiving with his brother, but without grandparents, just to be safe.
“So glad to see him,” she said.