Despite the mountains of evidence, and who's who of medical professionals pleading with the public to get it through their heads that mass travel in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is a terrible idea, This week Americans traveled more than at any other point in the past nine months, setting a record for pandemic-era travel beyond any other time frame since the country first began shutting down as a result of the virus last spring.
According to a government spokesperson, more than one million people crossed Transportation Security Administration airport checkpoints on Wednesday, bringing the seven-day, pre-Thanksgiving travel number to around 6.8 million people total. Earlier this month, the American Automobile Association forecast that an estimated 50 million people will travel this year — a pandemic-related drop from last year's total of 55 million people, although the organization noted that the bulk of travelers will largely go by road, rather than air.
Still, the million-plus travelers who crossed TSA checkpoints on Wednesday marks the highest amount of airline flyers since March, just before the country began to initiate lockdown procedures in response to the then-new Coronavirus pandemic. Incredibly, Wednesday's numbers — one of a handful of days when air travel topped a million passengers since the pandemic's start — still account for just under half of what TSA recorded last year, when 2.6 million people boarded flights the day before Thanksgiving.
Incredibly, the biggest test may be yet to come. Traditionally, the busiest travel day of the year in the United States comes immediately following Thanksgiving. According to Forbes, if the percentage of pre-Thanksgiving air travelers holds steady through the weekend, this coming Sunday could see around 1.16 million people flying, as compared to around 2.9 million at that time last year.
Meanwhile, even with numbers down significantly compared to last year, the fact that a record number of people have chosen to travel now, nine months into a pandemic that has already killed more than a quarter-of-a-million Americans, and only seems to be gaining strength, it's hard to imagine coronavirus cases will start declining anytime soon.