Thanksgiving is notoriously a big holiday for travel, but as the coronavirus pandemic surges in the United States as of Nov. 17, experts warn against any unnecessary travel. If you have to travel, though, there are ways to mitigate the risks. Traveling during Thanksgiving often means navigating through large crowds at airports, which can make social distancing difficult. To give yourself the best chance at getting to your destination without getting sick, opt to avoid the busiest travel days for Thanksgiving 2020, in addition to taking other risk mitigation efforts.
Thanksgiving is Thursday, Nov. 26 this year, and the days before and after the holiday are typically some of the busiest travel days of the year. Though it's likely this year's travel season will be a little lighter due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, you can still expect to see more travelers during the holiday as compared to other times during the year. As of Nov. 12, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that traveling increases your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19, and states the best way to protect yourself is by staying home. You can keep up with the latest travel guidance on the CDC website.
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, Ph.D., a preparedness fellow at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, tells Elite Daily it’s best to avoid crowds if you have to travel. “The big goal in traveling is to limit the number of people you come in contact with and keep as much space between you and others as you can,” Piltch-Loeb explains. A good way to make that happen is to avoid the busiest travel days.
Christie Hudson, Senior PR Manager for Expedia, tells Elite Daily as of Nov. 17, the busiest day according to flight demand is the day before Thanksgiving, Wednesday, Nov. 25, with the second busiest day being the Friday before Thanksgiving, Nov. 20.
Return flights are a bit more spread out, but the Sunday following the holiday, Nov. 29, is looking to be the busiest post-holiday travel day, per Hudson, which lines up with last year’s data. The 2019 airport screening record from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) listed the Sunday after Thanksgiving was the busiest travel day of the 2019 Thanksgiving holiday, with more than 2.8 million screened on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, making it the busiest travel day in TSA's 18-year history.
According to TSA spokesperson Dan Velez, the TSA also predicts Friday, Nov. 20, Wednesday, Nov. 25, and Sunday, Nov. 29, to be the busiest Thanksgiving travel days, based on data from past years. While Velez says the TSA doesn’t make passenger predictions, it’s likely Thanksgiving travel will see numbers similar to that of Labor Day 2020 weekend, which hit 968,000 passengers.
If you want to avoid the potential crowds, Hudson recommends booking a departing flight for Monday, Nov. 23, and coming back the following Monday, Nov. 30, which also might help save you money. She says according to Expedia data, the Monday to Monday itinerary can be 25% to 30% cheaper than the traditional Wednesday through Sunday trip.
After you book your flight, make sure you remain diligent with safety precautions before and after you fly. Piltch-Loeb strongly suggests you quarantine and get tested for COVID-19 before your trip. If you test positive for COVID-19, you'll want to contact your doctor and follow the CDC’s guidance on quarantining. Keri Althoff, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, spoke about travel risks during a Nov. 12 Bloomberg School of Public Health webinar on Thanksgiving celebrations and travel during the pandemic. Althoff warns against travel, but if you do, prepare for the possibility you might be stuck in a crowd, and "practice your statement of how you will encourage more distance between yourself and a stranger."
If you're planning on driving to your destination, which Piltch-Loeb says is the “safest mode of transportation” if you have to leave home, there are also some popular travel days you'll want to know about. According to Google’s 2019 Thanksgiving Trends report, the high traffic days are unsurprisingly the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after the holiday.
While you're traveling, follow CDC safety measures as of Nov. 12, which include wearing a face mask, avoiding close contact by maintaining at least a 6-foot distance, washing or sanitizing your hands often, avoiding contact with anyone who is sick, and not touching your face. And as always, stay home if you are sick.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Elite Daily's coverage of coronavirus here.
Rachael Piltch-Loeb, Ph.D., preparedness fellow at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Keri Althoff, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health