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Fewer trips during pandemic Thanksgiving but thousands still traveling

Kennedy Airport expects fewer Thanksgiving holiday travelers this

Kennedy Airport expects fewer Thanksgiving holiday travelers this year but officials still project that 196,528 passengers will pass through its terminals.   Credit: Getty Images/Spencer Platt

Passengers flying at the region’s major airports are estimated to be 71% fewer over last year’s Thanksgiving travel days. Trips aboard the Long Island Rail Road were down 73% Monday compared to the same time in 2019. And on the state roadways, there were "lighter traffic volumes" Wednesday.

What is typically the busiest travel time of the year is expected to be much less so this Thanksgiving. But even with double-digit declines in air, train and road travel, there are still hundreds of thousands in the region forecast to defy public health guidelines and travel.

In the region’s airports, for example, while 74% fewer passengers are expected at Kennedy Airport, 196,528 travelers are forecast. At Newark Liberty International, 63% fewer passengers are forecast with 217,285 travelers expected. And at LaGuardia, the forecast says 76% fewer are traveling but that still means 89,655 passengers. The figures were provided by Alana Calmi, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airports.

In an interview on CBS News’s "Face the Nation," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said that while he understands many people are experiencing "COVID fatigue" following months of pandemic restrictions, traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday days — ignoring public health guidelines — is "going to get us into even more trouble than we’re in right now."

Nationally, the number of travelers screened Friday — 1 million — was the second-highest single-day rush since March 16, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Kayla Shults, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the LIRR'S parent agency, said that passenger traffic was down about 73% Monday compared to the equivalent in 2019. That year, on Thanksgiving Day, from 6:30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. there were 9,635 passengers westbound, and eastbound, from 9:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., there were 30,840.

On the state roadways, the New York’s Department of Transportation "is observing lighter traffic volumes … as compared with recent weekday patterns and also the day before Thanksgiving last year," wrote Stephen Canzoneri, a spokesman for the agency’s Long Island region, in a email. Canzoneri did not respond to a follow-up email seeking specifics.

Brian Wolshon, a professor of civil engineering at Louisiana State University, said that those numbers, coupled with his own research into traffic patterns throughout the pandemic, suggest that travel across the metropolitan New York region this Thanksgiving season would decline at least a quarter, if not more, compared with past years.

"I would be shocked if it was anywhere near as high," he said. "My guess is, when it’s all said and done — wow — at least 25 to 30 percent. That would be my guess."

His research showed that across the United States, motor vehicle traffic decreased starting in mid-March, bottoming out at about 60% lower than usual through late April, when it began to pick up again beginning in early May — once schools, offices and retailers began to reopen — and has continued to rise since. The trends are similar in New York State, though the dip started earlier — around March 10, he said. He estimates traffic is now down about 10% to 15% in some of the places he has studied.

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