What travel will look like this Thanksgiving

What is usually the busiest time of year for the transport industry is likely to look a little quiet in 2020, as Americans are being advised to stay at home for the holidays.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner the CDC is recommending people stay at home where possible as “travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19”.

“Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year,” the center advises.

Despite this vast numbers of Americans are still planning on travelling, with AAA estimating that some 50 million people will be heading out of town for Thanksgiving weekend.

According to Roger Dow of the US Travel Association, Americans are “tired of being at home”. They don’t want to give up taking trips and they are desperate to see their friends and family for the holidays.

So if you are heading home for the holidays – by plane, train or car – here’s what you can expect.


Airline bookings are down some 60% this holiday season compared to last year but that doesn’t mean the airports are empty. TSA officers screened over 3 million passengers last weekend – the highest figure since the pandemic began back in March – and numbers are expected to remain high throughout the holiday season.

In all, airlines have laid on an additional 1,300 domestic flights to cope with the extra traffic. They are also taking a number of extra precautions to ensure that passengers can travel safely.

Airports and planes are now cleaned more regularly, with plane cabins disinfected using electrostatic fogging and hospital grade HEPA air filtration systems.

Airports will also enforce mandatory face coverings and will be equipped with social distancing markers on the floor to help people stay 6ft apart.

Overall air travel will still feel very different to before the pandemic. Masks will need to be worn for the duration of your flight and some airlines – including Delta and Alaska – are blocking middle seats until at least the New Year.


With fewer people flying this year, AAA have warned the roads will be almost as busy as normal, with only a 4% decrease on last year’s traffic. Of the 50 million Americans travelling home this week 95% - or 47.8 million – will be going by car rather than braving a plane or a train.

However, experts warn this figure might drop as Americans keep a weather eye on the pandemic. Last Thursday saw the highest one-day infection total of over 153,000 new cases, which will doubtless prompt some travellers to reconsider their plans.

As the weather gets colder infections are also likely to rise even further. Michael Osteholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said “it will not surprise me if in the next weeks we see over 200,000 new cases a day”.

For now though it look as if the roads will still be busy, so be sure to plan ahead and drive safely if you’re leaving town this week.


Like flying, railway travel is likely to see a significant bump in passenger numbers over the holiday season; though still well below normal figures. Amtrak have added extra trains to their Northeast Corridor route and additional carriages to trains operating the Midwest and West Coast tracks.

Amtrak are also laying on a host of Covid protocols to help keep passengers safe. This includes extra cleaning and sanitising of trains, mandatory facemasks, and selling a limited number of seats to ensure social distancing.

Your travel experience may vary though depending on the route you’re travelling on. Passengers on some services between November 23rd and 30th will have to reserve a seat to travel and all Amtrak customers are being advised to book ahead. For more information, check the Amtrak website.

The website also allows you to check how full your train will be using their ‘capacity indicator’ and you can book with no reservation fees for journeys before December 31st.

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