‘If you can get to see grandma this Thanksgiving, book the seat and go’: Travelers still nervous in COVID-19 holiday season

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — A study just released by Harvard shows that passengers on airlines have the same risk of contracting COVID-19 as going grocery shopping or eating a restaurant.

The results come just as people are preparing for the holiday travel season, but such reports are not new and may not have an effect on how many people travel by air during the holidays.

Air travel passenger numbers took a nosedive at the beginning of the pandemic but made a comeback during the summer months, leading industry leaders hopeful that it would reach 85% of pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year.

It didn’t happen.

“It went flat as a tortilla,” said Michael J. Boyd, president of Boyd Group International, a leading airport and airline planning and consulting firm.

Although the Harvard report was sponsored by the airline and airport industry, it mirrors previous studies that show that commercial airplane filtration systems can eliminate viruses.

“If you can get to see grandma this Thanksgiving, book the seat and go,” Boyd said.

But such reports are countered by last week’s revelation that 13 out of 49 passengers on a flight to Ireland contracted the virus during a seven-and-half-hour international flight. Nine of them were wearing masks and several were distanced from other passengers.

There is still some question whether the virus was contracted on the airplane, but such incidents don’t bode well for holiday travel this year.

At Sacramento International, passenger capacity will be down 33% over last year; that’s better than the 40% or more at other airports.

Airports may less crowded, but because of a reduction in the number of flights, expect full airplanes, added virus protection protocols like social distancing in lines, and infrequent travelers: “More kids, more strollers… almost a normalized thing for Thanksgiving, which could mean total chaos,” Boyd warned.

On the Labor Day weekend, activity at Sacramento International Airport was steady. Domestic air travel held up better than long distance and international travel in recent months.

Industry analysts say it’s the destination, not the travel, that worries people.

“It’s getting there and finding that the mayor or the governor or something says you’re going to be quarantined,” Boyd said. “And that’s really hurting everybody. We got to get around those things as quick as we can.”

While the airline industry wants it known that air travel is safer than ever, it realizes that many passengers are potential passengers are not of the same mind for now and or in the near future.

“These people that tell you we won’t be back to 2019 levels until like 2024, I’m sorry, I think they’re right and our forecast shows the same thing,” Boyd warned.

Sacramento International continues to use more intensive cleaning procedures. Despite fewer passengers, the airport is reminding passengers to arrive two hours early, especially during holiday travel periods because of longer waits at ticket counters, security checkpoints and concessions.

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