A year ago, with no vaccines and with so much commitment to slowing the spread of COVID-19, we pretty much hunkered down for Thanksgiving. A vast majority of us stayed home.
This week, in spite of higher prices for gas (and for pretty much everything else, too) and in spite of spiking-once-again COVID-19 case numbers, especially in Minnesota and elsewhere in the Upper Midwest, a “strong rebound in holiday travel,” to “nearly pre-pandemic levels” is predicted.
A few tips and reminders seem a good idea then to get everyone safely where they’re going and to keep everyone safe once they’ve arrived.
“It’s beginning to look more like a normal holiday travel season, compared to what we saw last year,” Debbie Haas, vice president of travel for AAA, said this month in a statement to media. “Now that U.S. borders are open, vaccinations are readily available, and new health and safety guidelines are in place, travel is once again high on the list for Americans who are ready to reunite with their loved ones for the holidays.”
The auto club predicts 53.4 million Americans will travel this Thanksgiving weekend, up 13% from last year. That would put travel volumes within 5% of 2019, back before any of us had ever heard of “social distancing.” Of this year’s Thanksgiving travelers, 68% plan to drive and 11% plan to fly, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
Closer to home, the AAA region that includes Minnesota and the Dakotas is expected to see nearly one in every five people traveling, that 19.6% of the local population surpassing the 16.2% nationally expected to be away from home.
That’s a whole lot of us on the roads and highways again and crowding inside airports. It’s a whole lot more than there have been in a long time and a whole lot of folks out of practice when it comes to getting around — and getting along.
At airports, expect longer ticketing and screening times and longer TSA lines. Get to the airport at least two hours ahead of domestic-flight departures and at least three hours for international travel, AAA advises. With flight delays and cancellations more commonplace, consider purchasing travel insurance. And remember, masks remain required (and just a good idea for everyone’s protection) on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends everyone wear a mask indoors in public if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission.
Behind the wheel, remember to drive defensively and patiently, both of which are good bits of advice anyway. Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination. Watch for severe-weather forecasts and adjust plans accordingly. Be sure your vehicle is in good working order, especially if it hasn’t been driven much in a while. Over this holiday weekend, AAA figures it will respond to more than 400,000 calls, a bulk of them for dead batteries, flat tires, and lockouts.
This weekend, as always, don’t drink and drive. “Plan a sober ride” is what AAA advises; or just stay put. Alcohol-related vehicle crashes and arrests for drunken driving increase over Thanksgiving holiday weekends. From 2016 to 2020, according to MnDOT numbers, Minnesota law enforcement averaged 46 DWI arrests on typical Wednesdays, but 66 such arrests were logged on the Wednesdays before Thanksgiving with another 95 arrests on Thanksgiving Thursdays. This time period is sometimes referred to as “Blackout Wednesday” or “Drunksgiving,” according to AAA.
As no-duh as it sounds, always buckle up, including when holiday traveling. It reduces your risk of being killed in a traffic accident by 45% and of suffering a critical injury by 50%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA.
While 68% of Thanksgiving travelers this year plan to stay with family or friends, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association survey, those planning to stay in hotels can choose one that has implemented additional housekeeping standards since the start of the pandemic. Look for AAA’s new “Inspected Clean” standard.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, be sure to learn and follow local COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines. Whether traveling or not, the best way to minimize COVID-19 risks is by getting fully vaccinated and boosted. If you haven’t been sufficiently jabbed before a trip this holiday season, to protect yourself and others, be extra vigilant about mask-wearing, especially in public places, hand-washing, and social-distancing. Get tested for COVID-19 if you feel sick or experience symptoms. Or, in the name of ultimate health safety, stay home if you aren’t feeling well.
While holiday travel this weekend is expected to approach pre-pandemic levels, we can’t kid ourselves that our world is at all a pre-pandemic place. It’s not by a long shot. Taking precautions and safeguards are as necessary now as ever. Make a plan, whether traveling or not, like we were doing a year ago.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Duluth News Tribune.