While air travel is way down from where it was last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is nonetheless increasing with the approaching Thanksgiving holiday both nationally and locally. This is despite CDC recommendations against traveling for Thanksgiving.
This increase in air travel on the national level is reflected in TSA checkpoint travel numbers. On Sunday, the TSA reported a total traveler throughput of 1,047,934, the most air travelers it has had since Mar. 16, just a few days after the Trump administration declared a national emergency regarding the pandemic.
The 1,047,934 air travelers recorded Sunday is still far less than the number recorded on the same day last year, 2,321,546. Corresponding with the News-Press on Monday, Santa Barbara Airport business development manager Deanna Zachrisson said that it is somewhat of a surprise that the nationwide numbers have approached half of normal.
She stated, “If a bit more than one million people flew the Sunday before Thanksgiving yesterday, that’s still one million people fewer than the year before. Obviously, that’s not great, but relative to where we have been, it’s progress.”
The added that around 30% of the country’s domestic air fleet remains grounded.
The Santa Barbara Airport forecasted that it would have checkpoint numbers of 471 and 476 for Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Instead, Saturday’s actual checkpoint number was 623, and Sunday’s was even higher, 663.
According Ms. Zachrisson, the weekend’s checkpoint numbers are the largest the airport has seen on a daily basis since March. She believes it is a “safe assumption” that the actual checkpoint numbers each day this week will be larger than TSA’S projections.
The forecasted checkpoint numbers for this week are 509 for Monday, 542 for Tuesday, 557 for Wednesday, 284 for Thursday, 374 for Friday, 545 for Saturday, 541 for Sunday, and 537 for Monday.
Unsurprisingly, these are far smaller than the Santa Barbara Airport’s checkpoint numbers during last year’s Thanksgiving week, which were all above 1,000 except for Thanksgiving Day, which was 995.
Ms. Zachrisson told the News-Press that the airport is currently back up to 12 daily flights, whereas there were around 22 or 23 daily flights prior to the pandemic. ‘
While the national increase in air travel is being felt at the local level, this hasn’t led to an increase in business for a few travel agents who talked to the News-Press.
Karen Ensign, an independent contractor travel agent with Montecito Village Travel, said that a majority of her clients are staying in town for Thanksgiving. Those who are going out of town don’t need plane tickets.
“As far as my clientele goes, most of them are staying home, they’re definitely not flying, and if they are traveling, they’re going by car,” she said.
Tina Slimp, a travel agent with Santa Barbara Travel, said for this week she has sold just two tickets for trips from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
She remarked in an email, “That is very different from last year! Nov. 25 and 29 are the busiest travel days of the year.”