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Next week could be busiest for airports in pandemic, but still not that busy

By Kristen Leigh Painter, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

Airlines and airports are lowering expectations for Thanksgiving amid surging cases of COVID-19 nationwide.

The pandemic is worsening just ahead of one of the busiest times for air travel.

For months, U.S. airlines have pinned hope of a significant revenue boost on the holiday season. And while more Americans will be flying next week than have been in recent weeks, it's now being further restrained by the virus' uncontrolled spread.

"The situation remains dire for the industry," Nicholas E. Calio, chief executive of industry trade group Airlines for America (A4A), said Thursday. "Demand currently, with everything going on, is softening."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday urged Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving, an escalation of its previous cautions on holiday travel.

The CDC is imploring, but not mandating, that people avoid travel to help prevent spreading the virus from one community to the next. The federal agency's guidance also contains a list of things people can do make any holiday travel as safe as possible.

 

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is expecting passenger security checkpoint volumes to be down about 65% from last year for the Tuesday-Sunday Thanksgiving stretch. During non-holiday weeks, MSP's passenger levels are about 70% below normal.

In 2019, U.S. airlines carried about 81.6 million passengers during Thanksgiving week, according to A4A. This year's projections are far lower, with 40% fewer seats available on airplanes due to a reduction in flights. The booked revenue is even worse, Calio said, down 80% from last year on steeply discounted fares.

Twin Cities-based Sun Country Airlines' Thanksgiving bookings are down 40% compared to last year, the company said.

Delta Air Lines, the dominant carrier at MSP, declined to provide its current booking forecast but said it will have at least 40% fewer flights during the Thanksgiving peak than it did at the same time last year.

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