Experts say holiday travel is back near pre-pandemic levels

TAMPA, Fla. — Ready or not, Thanksgiving week is here, which means holiday travel is back in full force.

With the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines for people as young as 5-years-old, travel experts say people are feeling more comfortable and more confident in traveling again.

“Expect congestion on the highways, long lines at the airports,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesperson for AAA.

The Auto Club Group predicts 53.4 million Americans will travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, which is up 13% from 2020. And here in Florida, they expect travel numbers to come within 2% of pre-pandemic levels.

“I think it’s music to people’s ears that we’re gonna see a Thanksgiving very similar to what we saw before the pandemic,” said Jenkins.

Travelers at Tampa International Airport are already arriving at one of the holiday hot spots for the winter season.

“Last year I didn’t get to come for Thanksgiving, so I kind of spent it at home with my friends. We had kind of a Friendsgiving, but I missed my family, and my family’s down here,” said Alyssa Delvalle, who is visiting family in Tampa from New York.

Families are feeling more comfortable gathering this year as more and more people have received the COVID-19 vaccine. Now they’re looking forward to spending the holidays together.

“We want to spend Thanksgiving together and have a bunch of turkey and stuff like that and just have a good time with friends and family,” said Johnny Sanchez, whose wife is flying home after spending six months in China.

Health experts say celebrating with friends and family is safe this year, especially if you’re vaccinated.

“Obviously, if you’re not vaccinated, you’re in a situation where you’re more vulnerable to getting infected, but for the people who are vaccinated, the people who can get boosted, enjoy your holiday season with your family, indoors, grandparents, children,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Adviser.

And when it comes to traveling, travel experts just warn people to hope for the best, but plan for potential delays.

“You’re kind of at the mercy of the airlines, and then the weather. Staffing has been a problem as of late, and there’s been a lot of talk that they’re gonna try to shore that up in time for the holidays,” said Jenkins.

Experts expect next Sunday to be the busiest travel day of the year. So as usual, they’re recommending people arrive three hours before take-off to ensure time to get to your gate.