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Holiday travel drops, as Americans rethink a comforting ritual. | Press "Enter" to skip to content

Holiday travel drops, as Americans rethink a comforting ritual.

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Americans have agonized over Thanksgiving this year, weighing skyrocketing numbers — more than 2,200 U.S. deaths from Covid-19 were reported on Tuesday for the first time since May 6 — and blunt warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention against the need, after a grim and worrying year, to gather with family for a traditional, carbohydrate-laden ritual.

Around 27 percent of Americans plan to dine with people outside their household, according to interviews conducted by the global data-and-survey firm Dynata at the request of The New York Times.

Views on whether to risk Thanksgiving gatherings appear to track closely with political views, with respondents identifying as Democrats far less likely to be planning a multihousehold holiday.

Megan Baldwin, 42, had planned to drive from New York to Montana to be with her parents, but last week, she canceled her plans.

“I thought I would get tested and take all the precautions to be safe, but how could I risk giving it to my parents, who are in their 70s?” she said, adding that they were not happy with the decision.

“All they want is to see their grandkids,” she said, “but I couldn’t forgive myself if we got them sick. It’s not worth it.”

Others decided to take the plunge, concluding that the emotional boost of being together outweighed the risk of becoming infected.

“We all agreed that we need this — we need to be together during this crazy, lonely time, and we are just going to be careful and hope that we will all be OK,” said Martha Dillon, who will converge with relatives from four different states on her childhood home in Kentucky.

Thanksgiving travel is clearly down compared with 2019.

The AAA has forecast a 10 percent overall decline in Thanksgiving travel compared with last year, the largest year-on-year drop since the recession of 2008. But the change is far smaller, around 4.3 percent, for those traveling by car, who make up a huge majority of those who plan to travel — roughly 47.8 million people.

About 917,000 people were screened by the Transportation Security Administration on Monday, less than half of the number seen on the same day in 2019, according to federal data published on Tuesday.

Airlines are struggling from a dramatic decline in demand that has forced them to drop flights and make big capacity cuts, said Katherine Estep, a spokeswoman for Airlines for America, an industry trade group. “Currently, cancelations are spiking, and carriers are burning $180 million in cash every day just to stay operating,” she said. “The economic impact on U.S. airlines, their employees, travelers and the shipping public is staggering.”

Demand for travel by train is down more sharply, at about 20 percent of what it was last year, said Jason Abrams, a spokesman for Amtrak.

Susan Katz, 73, said she canceled plans to spend Thanksgiving with her daughter last Friday, after watching a monologue by Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC host, describing her partner’s bout of coronavirus and her fear that it would prove fatal.

“Her emotion, Rachel Maddow’s emotion, made it so real, it just moved us,” Ms. Katz said. “I probably called her within a few hours of seeing that.”

Ms. Katz, who lives in Raleigh, N.C., said she will spend the holiday alone with her husband. She is trying to decide whether to bother thawing a turkey breast.

Warnings from experts swayed Laura Bult, 33, to cancel her Sunday flight to St. Louis two days before she was scheduled to leave.

“I’m on Twitter — there’s a lot of travel-shaming going on,” she said. “Doing the small part of being one less person circulating through an airport felt important enough to me.”

Her decision, she said, means her mother will be alone for the holiday.

“I really wanted to be with my mom,” she said. “I was trying to be careful because of her. She is not looking out for her best interests, because she just wants to see me.”

Interest in travel generally has increased after recent announcements by pharmaceutical companies that their coronavirus vaccine candidates have been effective at preventing infections, according to preliminary data.

Travel bookings increased by about 25 percent after Pfizer said in early November that a vaccine it was developing with BioNTech was more than 90 percent effective, according to Skyscanner, a travel search engine.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious-disease expert, has strongly discouraged holiday travel as the number of new infections surges across the country

“Do you really want to have that gathering?” he said, in an interview with PBS. “Or should you say, I know it hurts not to do it, because this is such a beautiful, traditional season, but hang in there with us, because there will be future times when you can do it?”


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