Thanksgiving travel has skyrocketed to new pandemic highs, but omicron poses a new challenge

Travelers walk through Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport on November 21, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan.

Matthew Hatcher | Getty Images

US airlines have had some of their busiest days of Thanksgiving since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, as travelers returned in droves to reunite with their families after a quiet vacation last year.

TSA checked nearly 2.5 million people on Sunday, most since February 15, 2020. This is about 15% less than the number of people verified by TSA two years earlier. From November 22 to Sunday, 14.4 million people passed the TSA, more than double the 6.4 million a year ago, but up from 16.4 million in 2019.

Airports, planes and parking lots were crowded, but travelers and airlines were lucky with mostly good weather and few cancellations, as opposed to massive disruptions that affected hundreds of thousands of passengers during several episodes this summer.

Airlines, including Southwest and American, have offered flight attendants and other staff additional pay or bonuses for working vacation travel and meeting scheduled attendance.

Despite a sharp increase in air travel over the holidays, airlines are now facing a new challenge as more countries report cases of the omicron-causing coronavirus, and international travel is recovering as more countries relax travel regulations.

Airline executives said bookings skyrocketed when travel restrictions that banned international travel from more than 30 US countries were lifted on November 8. International travel is the key to carriers’ financial recovery after the pandemic.

Scientists in South Africa were the first to discover a new variant.

The fresh strain has raised concerns among health officials over whether it could be passed on more easily. Omicron cases have been found in South Africa, UK, Israel, Hong Kong, Canada and other countries. Dutch health officials said Sunday they found at least 13 cases of omicron from 61 passengers who tested positive for Covid on two flights from South Africa.

The Biden administration has temporarily banned travel from South Africa and seven other South African countries since Monday, less than a month after it lifted pandemic rules that banned travel from South Africa, the UK and more than 30 other countries.

Both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, the only US carriers with non-stop flights to South Africa, said Friday they are not changing their schedules.

Airlines for America, a lobbyist for major US carriers such as American, Delta and United, said it is in contact with the US government about the situation.

“International travel is critical to revitalizing economies around the world, supporting millions of jobs in the US and abroad, revitalizing communities, and reuniting families, friends, and colleagues who have not seen each other in nearly two years or more,” the press said. Secretary Carter Young. in the statement. “In this rapidly changing environment, it is imperative that the decisions of the US government regarding international travel restrictions and requirements are based on scientific knowledge.”

Israel has banned foreign visitors for two weeks under one of the strictest new rules. Japan followed suit with a similar restriction that went into effect on Tuesday. The UK will require travelers to take a PCR test upon arrival from overseas and self-isolate until negative.

Concerns over the option and new travel restrictions on Friday led to a drop in airline and aerospace stocks, although network operators fell slightly on Monday morning.

“There is still a lot to be learned about this option and how people will react to the trip as a result, but we believe the stock will be volatile until more is known,” MKM Partners analyst Conor Cunningham wrote Sunday. …

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