1 Million People Flew Yesterday And That’s A Little Scary

Thanksgiving air travel is going to set 2020 records, and the confidence level for that can be adjusted up significantly after 1 million people cleared TSA security checkpoints yesterday. One million travelers (not just passengers, but employees as well) is still just 40% of 2019’s travel for the most similar day. Air travel has hovered around the high 30s and low 40s of last year’s numbers for some time. However it isn’t taking a plunge despite the record rise in diagnosed Covid-19 infections in the United States.

About a million infections are being reported weekly now in the U.S. With the nation’s test positivity rate rising, indeed doubling since the start of this wave, it’s likely that the numbers are much higher. Surely there are between 5 and 10 times as many infections as cases, despite increased levels of testing. The CDC is recommending people postpone travel and stay home. People are not doing that.

Air travel itself is fairly safe, and among the safer indoor activities (though the longer the flight, the greater the exposure risk). However in places with the greatest spread avoiding even less risky indoor activities may be prudent. TSA checkpoints, airport restrooms, gate areas and jetways may contribute to spread – even if aircraft HEPA air filters and downward airflow are protective.

Even though air travel itself may be safe, it brings the virus from one place to another. Not every part of the country is have equal levels of outbreak, although significant spread is happening in many places. Perhaps more importantly than the travel itself is the activities people undertake at their destinations. Large indoor gatherings that mix households are likely to contribute to spread. As I noted on twitter,

With the large numbers of people who will have already had the virus and retain some immunity, coupled with the introduction of vaccines and antibody therapies, the pandemic should be under control in the U.S. reasonably soon. We’re just a few months away from the worst of the crisis being behind us here. But it looks like it will be a rough few months.

Knowing that a vaccine is nearly here is going to make us all impatient. And goodness knows the past 8.5 months have been hard for many. But given how little time there is until it’s going to be safe to gather (in some form) it makes even more sense now to wait.

If the pandemic were likely to continue in its present form for years, it might make sense for some people to throw up their arms, live life and get exposed – and hopefully get some immunity to keep living life, after a couple of weeks of unpleasantness (though in the process potentially exposing others who won’t be so lucky). But since the amount of time left to deal with this for many of us seems short, it makes a lot more sense to avoid the virus for just a little longer.

We’re now at a place where intertemporal substitution makes a great deal of sense. We’ll travel less now, and travel more in the summer. We’ll go out to eat less now, and go out to eat more in the summer.

Put another way, I simultaneously cannot wait for travel to recover and also hope it waits until 2021 to do so.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Love it. Getting back to normal everywhere!
    People tuning out politicians and so called health experts who have been wrong about basically everything.

    I hope this means people will never trust their governments again, that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from this. You can’t trust anyone but yourself, everyone else is trying to use you somehow.

  2. I think Gary is right. You know that red dot that ppl from India put on their forehead?
    I wish when we got the vaccine we all could get an official dot like that on our forehead that would last like for 6 months. It is going to be hard to keep on wearing a mask after you have been vaccinated. After however many days they tell me it is until I am protected, I will first stop wearing a mask outside in urban settings.

    I’ll probably keep wearing a mask indoors shopping etc. for a while after vaccination in order to maintain social pressure for everyone to mask up, as it will be a while until everyone gets the vaccine. Even though I personally will not need the mask, I will still wear it for a time as I expect to get the vaccine early.

  3. @Howard, your ignorance of the facts is breathtaking, and your lack of consideration for others is appalling.

    Thanks, @Gary, for writing a very timely and thoughtful column.

  4. @Howard – no, we just don’t trust YOUR government (i.e., the lame duck one that has 60 days left and couldn’t give a sh!t about the pandemic right now)

    46’s government will listen to, you know, science / medical experts and actually try to speak to all citizens. What a concept.

  5. @Howard, I suggest you have a talk with your doctor and ask his opinion as to the reality of covid.

  6. Yeah the health officials were so wrong in predicting a major outbreak this fall and winter, NOT. Oops, only the current idiot in the White House and his supporters predicted no problems in the fall.

  7. @UA-NYC it is simply amazing how many people are willing to trade away their civil liberties and freedoms simply because we are in the middle of a pandemic. I’m neither a Republican or Democrat I’m an independent and what has struck me is the willingness of democrats to give up their freedoms in exchange for perceived government safety. I know the pandemic is real but at the same time the government does not get to shred or ignore civil liberties and freedoms under the guise of trying to keep people alive. The governments job is to give the public all the information needed so we can make our own decision. When you have someone like Governor Cuomo or Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker ordering the police to go door to door to make sure citizens in New York and Illinois don’t have more than 10 people in their house during Thanksgiving clearly something is wrong. Thank God nearly every Sherif, and police chief in New York State and Illinois told these governors to pound sand, they will not do it. In Illinois Pritzker wants neighbors to turn in neighbors who they suspect have more than 10 people in their house for Thanksgiving dinner. REALLY what world do we live in where we have governors actively trying to destroy civil liberties.

    Even though we are in a pandemic, there are people in government using this pandemic as a type of litmus test to see just how far they can push the American people into accepting more and more government control over their daily lives. One of my coworkers told me this is how the (fictional TV show) Handmades Tail begins with citizens accepting small changes to their daily lives until one day you wake up and all your freedoms are gone.

    The CDC gave us their recommendations which I appreciate, now it is up to everyday citizens to decided (not the government) what to do with that information. If citizens want to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday that is their choice and they have the right to make that choice. Fear is a powerful motivator but it is also a powerful paralyzer. The way many people in this country have allowed fear to paralyze them into giving more control of their daily lives over to government is cause for great concern. The devil never lets you know he is the devil until it is to late. This pandemic has really opened my eyes to what could happen in this country if we don’t wake up and realize what is taking place behind the pandemic. If we don’t wake up to see the struggle for control and how some in government are really testing the limits of their governmental authority.

  8. @UnionsWork – What a joke? Americans use freedom as a guise for their selfishness and willful disregard for others. Perhaps it’s not surprising given our institutional bigotry.

  9. This week, there is almost no business travel. Most is Thanksgiving traffic. This is not stupidity, it is aggression against America.

    Even after the vaccine, you should wear masks for the rest of 2021 and at least Jan and Feb 2022. Otherwise, you are worse than Iran and North Korea. Foolhardy Americans have killed more people than Iran has killed Americans.

  10. Spreading Covid 19 is just like AIDS infected not using condoms and giving others AIDS. Stop it. Be good and it will be over in a little more than a year. Singapore already stopped Covid 19. Zero cases

  11. @ Andre it is not selfishness or willful disregard it is the freedom to take the information given and make your own choice. I follow a lot of the CDC’s recommendation I wear a mask every time I leave my house, I socially distance, I wash my hands all the time, I have hand sanitizer in my car and on my person at all times. What I refuse to do is allow the government to use fear to dictate my daily life. In this country we have gone from live your life but wear a mask when it is not possible to socially distance, to now you have some governors mandating police go door to door to make sure citizens don’t have more than 10 people in their house for Thanksgiving dinner. Or asking neighbors to turn in their neighbors if they suspect they have more than 10 people in their house for Thanksgiving. If you can’t see how that is a bridge too far then I don’t know what to say.

    For Americans who say its not worth the risk that is their right, and I 100% respect their choice. But for others they are saying we are living our life while doing it safely and I respect their choice as well. My family we are all taking COVID nasal antigen test on Sunday (tomorrow). But now here in Illinois the governor is saying that is a horrible idea, testing to see if anyone is positive for Thanksgiving. Back in March, April and May all you heard was we need more testing, we need more testing to keep people safe. Now we have more testing and now they are saying wait don’t use testing to make sure your Thanksgiving is safe, just stay home. Every time Americans make an adjustment or use the system to their advantage certain people in government try find a way to stop you.

    Also what I find equally amazing is prior to the election ALL the so called TV experts stated there would be no vaccine until Q3 2021 at the earliest. They stated it simply isn’t possible for there to be a vaccine in 2020. Then 24 hours after a winner was declared in the presidential race (and no I didn’t vote for Trump) we have a vaccine. Then 84 hours later another drug manufacture says they have a vaccine as well. How did we go from there will be no vaccine in 2020 to now Pfizer has already submitted its application for emergency approval and pending FDA certification a vaccine could be out in limited supply by mid-December and now every single one of those same TV medical experts who stated it not possible now are saying millions of American could be vaccinated by summer 2021.

  12. @UnionsWork, the experts were not saying there would be no vaccine until Q3 2021 at the earliest. They said it wouldn’t reach the majority of the population till then. In most countries the first priority is healthcare and other frontline workers, then the at risk groups, then the general populace. You just weren’t paying attention.

    As for your idea that hosting over 10 people at your house is “doing it safely”, that is a fanciful notion not backed up by science or even common sense. And the whole point of getting tested is to find out if you need to stay home, not to get a golden ticket to go out socializing. That’s why they are discouraging asymptomatic people from testing.

  13. Some people have had COVID–millions actually–and are flying. Some of us are flying alone to go somewhere and be alone. Where I live now, the health care is SO bad that I would rather be sick anywhere else. I am not going to be with people. But frankly, my mental health matters too. People are dying of isolation. I have no family anywhere. You try 9 months locked in a house working from a computer with no touch, no love, no friends, and try to preach from a perch.

  14. A lot of people who are going to spend Thanksgiving with family will be spending Christmas going to family member funerals.

  15. A virus with 99 percent survival rate for most people.
    If you are hiding out at home in fear of being dead, then your life is already dead.
    Carry on with the fear porn.

  16. @Andrew – quite true. Our “Halloween spike” we are seeing right now is going to look like a bump in the road compared to what we will be seeing mid-December.

    @UnionsWork – you gave a couple thoughtful responses. I will just say…you also have likely been exposed to negative amplification from the OANs of the world (even Fox kind of gets it now). As echoed by another poster, we knew that there was a good chance of vaccine approval by end of year – but it will be ~halfway into next year until there is mass distribution. Billions of doses don’t materialize out of thin air.

    Also – it is amusing that many (frankly typically on the Right) think it’s all or nothing – can’t have a single government ask, otherwise it violates all of our freedoms and liberties, Don’t Tread On Me. Jesus H.C. – wearing a bloody mask is just about the least thing we can do…true patriotism is helping to protect your fellow Americans. If Agent Orange had asked his cult followers to wear a mask starting in April, do the multiplier effect and US deaths are probably ~1/2 of what they are right now. The pandemic and its repercussions would have been here one way or another, but he has truly been Superspreader #1 of lies, mistruths, and bad behaviors.

  17. Some of you are morons. Public health means its about the public so its not just about your own selfish choice. Society expects you not to ‘choose’ to ignore traffic lights, TSA checkpoints, wearing pants, or engage in numerous other minor or major behaviors that public effects. I wish these selfish Covidiots would put a dot on their head so medical personnel could kick them out- hospitals are full in many places, medical personnel are exhausted, hundreds have died. If you do not want to be in society go live in a cabin in the woods. If you do live in society, then yes you will give up some personal ‘freedoms’ for the greater good- its called being an adult and a citizen.

  18. @UnionsWork: Exactly right.


    “the experts were not saying there would be no vaccine until Q3 2021”

    They most certainly were. They were saying that vaccines cannot be developed and tested any faster than that. You are attempting to rewrite history.

    @UA-NYC: Mask wearing is mandated in the most populated parts of the country and yet the infection rates are skyrocketing. Couldn’t possibly be that masks are just a feel good measure and not really doing any good, could it? Nah . . ..

    @dee: Yep. He/she is racist as well.


    “A virus with 99 percent survival rate for most people.”

    And that’s 99% of those who are infected, which is still a minority of the population.

  19. @unionworks. Insightful and true words. It is too bad you must get into a battle of wits with unarmed opponents. The sky is falling masses will just have to wait for the all clear sign to turn off CNN and leave their basements. Every time i see these sycophants spouting their “science based” nonsense i ask the same question. Someone please direct me to one scientific peer reviewed article that proves madk wearing prevents covid transmission or that covid is an airborne virus. Im sure some of the intellectuals on this site will enlighten me.

  20. @David J.S. – wow, the OAN/Newsmax pull is strong. Yeah, “listening to science” will get you nowhere…lol

    @Dee – you prove every single post that you genuinely, truly, are one of the dumber posters on the travel blogs. No worries, you will do better under President Biden than the former joker, even if you don’t realize it and can’t acknowledge it.

    @1KBrad – Apparently you don’t understand that Covid thrives with population density. The better question to ask yourself, if you can conjure up the intellect, is why is it thriving in the less dense Red states…they are the ones that will be suffering the most due to insufficient medical capacity.

    And “racist”? Seriously – piss off, twat.

  21. @UA-NYC: I have read many of your posts. Funny how racists don’t like it when they are called out on it.

    @David J Szerlag: I can show you scientific studies that show masks are NOT effective:


    Funny how all the Snowflakes can’t show a researched study to the contrary.

    If all we did was listen to the scientists, the whole country would be closed down, the economy would collapse, and there would be no food on the grocery store shelves. Science is just one part of the equation.

  22. @1KBrad – now you are just straight trolling, chump. Care to give any specific examples of my “racism”?

    Also, clearly your single link to a U of Minnesota article that apparently has been besieged by criticism, makes you the all-powerful decider of mask effectiveness. Why don’t you also link to one of the very few articles by “scientists” who think climate change is a hoax too?

    Still pretending to not be a Trump sycophant?

  23. @UA-NYC: Still no cite to a scientific study demonstrating that masks actually help slow or stop the spread of COVID-19? Don’t like the CIDRAP article? Mainstream infectious disease research organization. You just don’t like the result.

    “Chump”? “Twat”? Resorting to juvenile name calling, I see. Typical left-wing move.

    Racist? Speaking derogatorily of another category of people is racist, which you have done, repeatedly. As you well know.

    I also see that reading comprehension is not one of your strong points. Allow me to reiterate. I am not a Trump supporter. Never was. Didn’t vote for him in 2016. But I don’t like what the Left is selling and I sure wasn’t going to vote for that. My vote was not for Trump, but against the garbage the Left is pushing. My vote was for the Republican party platform.

    BTW, how are you enjoying that 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court?

    Still enjoying the lockdown in the pisshole NYC has become?

  24. @1KBrad writes:
    “My vote was not for Trump, but against the garbage the Left is pushing. My vote was for the Republican party platform.”

    So, in other words, you voted for Trump. Let’s be honest here.

  25. @Charlie: Don’t understand the difference between voting FOR something or someone and voting AGAINST something you find far more repugnant?

  26. Amazing, almost 9 months in and Gary still hasn’t figured out the scam. It appears his sleeping will do Rip Van Winkle proud.

  27. We are currently traveling to Florida from Alaska to spend time with family. Taking precautions but not living in fear! Amazed at how many people on a travel blog are afraid to travel. Lol

  28. And UA-NYC you are the biggest chump on this forum spreading your illogical opinion and resorting to juvenile name calling. Hope You enjoy what NYC! Has now become.

  29. Covidiots want to see how many people they can kill with a vaccine just around the corner. Pathetic. I’m sure around Christmas we will see some of those same people crying about how their parents or grandparents died from covid that they caught during thanksgiving.

  30. Left leaning or right leaning, the CDC doesn’t want you to travel because flying is unsafe but to avoid large family gathering. Our god daughter, her mom and dad fly from the east to visit for the week out west. They were quarantined at home before they came, wore masks and we should all be fine. We had to travel due to family issues all year and have felt completely safe. The airlines are all taking this seriously which is more then I can say about some people at the grocery store . Right now, the office and group out door events (no one need Trump Rallies or Youth Soccer right ) are the biggest causes since these people know more then scientist and refuse to wear a mask. Time to get smart people, MASK UP or SHUT IN (and UP). How many people need to die to prove that this is not hoax!

  31. Once again the sky is falling. Please provide us with just one scientific peer reviewed study that shows that masks are effective in stopping the spread of covid. Until then please stay in your basement and let the rest of the 99% who will not get seriously ill live our lives.

  32. @David J Szerlag
    It doesn’t work like that. There are plenty of folk who want to live their lives but to do so safely. That requires the cooperation of others. It’s just plain selfish for people to “live your lives” in such a way that it endangers others.

    Full disclosure: I won’t travel again until I’ve gotten the vaccine, so I guess I’m following your advice to stay home…. but, seriously, your reference to “basement” is just plain insulting.

  33. I’m sorry that you thought my comment was insulting but im weary of hearing about how unsafe it is to go outside or out to eat or fly, etc from people who are just parroting what they hear and not take the time to think for themselves and actually research the subject. I dont disagree with you totally as i agree their are sub sets of the population that need to take extra precautions to protect themselves, but to lock down or pause the country is just nonsense. More than 95% of the population will never get covid, get it and be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. My .02 last from me on the subject.

  34. @David J Szerlag – I would think a licensed attorney would know better, but I guess the QAnon / hoaxer set will always need representation.

    Tell us about your “research” out of curiosity…the Trump loyalists always have the best “research”.

  35. @UA-NYC: I cited an article from a respected infectious disease research institute to you that says there is no data that establishes masks diminish the infection rate of COVID.

    You have cited nothing but your arrogant and condescending opinion to the contrary.

    So it is clear exactly what you are full of: B.S.

  36. @UA, such a witty response!! Instead of answering the question posed we wlll revert to name calling. Such a liberal response. Nice to see you are a troll as well. Yep, an attorney, nationwide practice in pharma and medical device litigation. Wife is a micro biologist to boot, so call me crazy but we know a little bit about viruses and how they spread. It would serve you well to brush up on the actual science rather than spending hours trying to come up with your dim witticisms.

  37. “Put another way, I simultaneously cannot wait for travel to recover and also hope it waits until 2021 to do so.” Over here seeing travel club international meeting (TCC) and family reunions ( distant cousins) being postponed now until 2022. Looks like 2021 is pretty much a write off, despite the vaccine coming. We have a postponed cruise booked in Japan for September 2021, but the chances of us taking it are 50-50 at this point. The hypocrisy of various Democrat leaders in California, as well as New York and other states gives me no confidence that putting a jackass in office will produce a miracle.

  38. Did you bother to review articles you provided links to? Not one peer reviewed article among them. all anecdotal Not one tested the spread of the virus. Sure use of a mask can prevent droplets from a sneeze or a cough, but what actually happens to the viral load? Only one study i am aware of that actually used virus and it showed that with a strong sneeze droplets travel about 6 feet and drop to ground. That of course debunks the aerolizing myth as well.
    Isnt the best way to beat this to wash your hands, dont touch your face and stay home if you dont feel well. My last comment what does trump have to do with any of this? Such a childish response. Grow up and act and debate like and adult not a 10 year old. Im done with this discussion.

  39. @David J Szerlag – that post wasn’t directed to you. BTW who’d you vote for in this election? That would be a nice tell.

    If masks really don’t work, I encourage you to meet w/every client without one, try to go to court without one, go see a doctor without one and see what they say. Tell them “hey they don’t work”. Maybe they’ll operate on you without one too – you cool w/that?

    BTW Newsmax/OAN are kind of the definition of “fake news”.

  40. Haha, write in for prez. I wear mask where it is reqd, dont like it dont think they are effective in most situations but cant fight city hall if you want to fly or go to home depot. My whole point of this discussion is people cant just keep parroting what they hear. they need to think for ourselves find out what is true, and it is disheartening that so many smart people dont.

  41. So by extension – assuming you think climate change really isn’t a thing either? Much like a few studies here and there that proclaim masks don’t work, you can also find ~3% of the scientists in the world who say climate change doesn’t really exist either.

    Me? I’ll stick with the 97%, TYVM. I’ll throw my hat in w/the scientists and doctors out there, vs. the QAnon lot. Thankfully the adults are back in charge soon.

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