Thanksgiving week passenger volume remains undetermined for Huntsville International Airport, but reduced travel by road and air seems even more likely after the CDC on Thursday urged Americans to spend the holiday at home with people in their household.
The AAA organization had anticipated at least a 10% drop in travel, the largest one-year decrease since the Great Recession in 2008. Based on mid-October forecast models, AAA would have expected up to 50 million Americans to travel for Thanksgiving, down from 55 million in 2019. Rising COVID-19 positive case numbers, renewed quarantine restrictions and the Centers for Disease Control travel health notices could mean even fewer holiday travelers.
“We think our numbers will be lower than we originally projected,” said Clay Ingram, AAA Alabama spokesperson. “With the spikes we’ve had with COVID, we expect more people will stay at home.”
He said that traveling by car gives some flexibility for last-minute changes in travel plans.
At Huntsville International Airport, “we are not sure what to expect for next week,” said spokeswoman Jana Kuner. “A lot of government officials are encouraging people not to travel for the holiday. We certainly are not encouraging people to go against that (guidance).”
She said the airport is adhering to all CDC guidelines and has touchless technology in place. Among precautions: ticket and car rental counters, the hotel desk, gate desks, gift shops and a restaurant all have plexiglass barriers and “separate and sanitize” floor stickers that show a CDC safe distance of 6 feet.
There also are signs alerting visitors about the required face mask policy. All airlines flying out of the airport have mask policies and other procedures during the pandemic for traveler safety.
“The airport is safe for those who do feel comfortable and make their own personal decision to travel,” Kuner said. “If people want to travel, we will provide a safe and secure place for them to do so.”
AAA predicts travel by automobile is projected to fall 4.3%, to 47.8 million travelers, and account for 95% of all holiday travel. It also expects air travel volume will be down by nearly half from previous years, to 2.4 million travelers, which would be the largest one-year decrease on record.
The CDC issued its recommendations just one week before Thanksgiving, at a time when diagnosed infections, hospitalizations and deaths are skyrocketing across the country.
The CDC's Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz cited more than 1 million new cases in the United States over the past week as the reason for the new guidance.
In advising Americans not to travel or spend the holidays with people outside the household, the CDC said: "Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu."
In Alabama, the Department of Public Health has reported 27,236 new positive cases of COVID-19 over the last 14 days.
Gas prices decline
For anyone traveling by car, expect to pay less for gas.
On Thursday, the cost of regular-grade gas statewide averaged $1.86 a gallon, according to Ingram. “We’ve been there a couple of weeks,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll see much of a change before Thanksgiving.”
In Decatur, the cost of gas averaged $1.80 a gallon, compared to $1.86 a gallon a month ago and $2.22 a gallon a year ago, according to AAA.