48.3 Million Traveling for Thanksgiving as U.S. Averages 100,000 COVID Cases a Day: AAA

The American Automobile Association (AAA) predicted millions of people would travel to be with family for Thanksgiving this year despite a rise in COVID infections across the country, the Associated Press reported.

AAA predicts that 48.3 million people, 4 million more than last year, will travel at least 50 miles from their home for Thanksgiving this year despite a nationwide rise in COVID cases.

The United States is reporting nearly 100,000 new infections per day. In the past two weeks, the seven-day daily average of new cases increased nearly 30 percent, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Last Friday was the busiest day for travelers since the start of the pandemic as more than 2.2 million people went through airport security. From Friday to Monday, double the number of travelers flew in the U.S. compared with the same days last year.

People traveling by car for Thanksgiving will likely see a 60 percent increase in gas prices compared to last Thanksgiving as the national average for gasoline on Tuesday was $3.40 a gallon, according to AAA.

President Joe Biden ordered 50 million barrels of oil be released from America's strategic reserve Tuesday in attempts to bring down the cost that's affecting travel prices for cars and planes.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Denver International Airport, Thanksgiving, Travel
From November 19 to 22, double the number of travelers flew in the U.S. compared with the same days last year. Above, travelers queue up at the south security checkpoint as traffic increases with the approach of the Thanksgiving holiday on November 23, at Denver International Airport in Denver. David Zalubowski/AP Photo

The price at the pump was a bit of a shock to Tye Reedy, who flew into California from Tennessee and borrowed his friend's truck for some sightseeing. Gas was running $5 a gallon at the Chevron in Alameda, and it cost $100 to fill up the truck.

"We did not travel last year because of COVID restrictions and all," Reedy said. "But you know, we're confident enough…with the vaccine and where things are now with the virus that, you know, we felt comfortable traveling."

Those prices could be one of several factors that will discourage some holiday travelers. In a survey conducted by Gasbuddy, which tracks pump prices, about half of the app users who responded said high prices will affect their travel plans this week. About two in five said they aren't making as many trips for a variety of reasons.

The U.S. action is aimed at global energy markets, but also at helping Americans coping with higher inflation and rising prices ahead of Thanksgiving and winter holiday travel.

Airlines are hoping to avoid a repeat of the massive flight cancellations—more than 2,300 apiece—that dogged Southwest and American Airlines at different times last month.

The breakdowns started with bad weather in one part of the country and spun out of control. In the past, airlines had enough pilots, flight attendants and other workers to recover from many disruptions within a day or two. They are finding it harder to bounce back now, however, because they are stretched thin after pushing thousands of employees to quit when travel collapsed last year.

American, Southwest, Delta and United have all been hiring lately, which gives the airlines and industry observers hope that flights will stay on track this week.

"The airlines are prepared for the holidays," said Helane Becker, an airlines analyst for financial-services firm Cowen. "They cut back the number of flights, the industry has enough pilots, they are putting more flight attendants through their [training] academies, and they are paying flight attendants a premium—what I'm going to call hazardous-duty pay—to encourage people not to blow off work."

The airlines have little margin for error right now. American expected to fill more than 90 percent of its seats with paying customers on Tuesday. That's a throwback to holiday travel before the pandemic.

"There is not a lot of room to put people on another flight if something goes wrong," said Dennis Tajer, a pilot for the airline and a spokesman for the American pilots' union.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration is dismissing concern that it might have staffing shortages at airport checkpoints this week because of a requirement that federal employees be vaccinated against COVID-19. White House officials said 93 percent of TSA employees are in compliance with the mandate, and they don't expect any disruptions.

At Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Peter Titus, an engineer at the Princeton University plasma physics lab, was heading to visit extended family in Canada with his wife and adult son. He carried a folder with printouts of their vaccination cards and negative COVID-19 tests needed to fly into Canada.

His son, Christian Titus, who works as a voice actor, says he's spent much of the pandemic inside but is willing to risk flying on a crowded airplane because he misses being around his family. He got a booster shot to increase his protection.

"My mental health does better by being around my family during these times," he said. "Yeah, it's dangerous. But you love these people, so you do what you can to stay safe around them."

Meka Starling and her husband were excited for many members of their extended family to meet their 2-year-old son, Kaiden, for the first time at a big Thanksgiving gathering in Linden, New Jersey.

"We've put pictures on Facebook so a lot of them have seen pictures of him, but to get to actually touch him and talk to him, I'm excited about it," said Starling, 44, of West Point, Mississippi, who will gather with nearly 40 family members, all of whom agreed to be vaccinated.

Denver International Airport, Thanksgiving, Travel
Last year, travelers were urged to stay home. This year, with more people vaccinated, expect to see busier roads and airports as family and friends gather again for Thanksgiving and the December holidays. Above, a traveler heads to the American Airlines check-in counter on November 23 at Denver International Airport in Denver. David Zalubowski/AP Photo