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More than 110 million Americans to travel for holidays despite COVID-19 surge

110 million expected to travel for the holidays
110 million expected to travel for the holidays 02:18

Despite the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases, more than 110 million Americans are hitting the roads and crowding airports at near pre-pandemic levels, according to AAA. Last year, only about 80 million traveled for the holidays.

"We're 27% ahead of where we were last year," said Robert Sinclair, a senior manager of public affairs at AAA Northeast. "Without a doubt, people have more confidence with the vaccines and the boosters." 

Six million will fly, many of them skittish and packing their Omicron trepidation with their toiletries. 

Atlanta International Airport
Travelers wait in line at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on December 21, 2021. Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty

Jonna McGrath, the general manager for United at Los Angeles International Airport, reassured those flying that the airplanes are safe. 

"We also have HEPA filters on our airplanes which really keeps the air quality a high quality," McGrath said. "They're emergency room equivalent."

Meanwhile, the airlines' top medical advisor warns that due to Omicron's high transmissibility, airlines passengers are two to three times more likely to catch the virus than with Delta. But overall, the plane cabin is a low-risk environment.

At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport — the country's busiest — many travelers are heading to popular holiday destinations, theme parks, resorts and Hawaii. It is also one of five U.S. airports offering optional COVID-19 screening for returning international travelers.

"I'm wearing two masks because even though I'm vaccinated that doesn't mean I can't get COVID," said one young traveler at the airport.

Long lines of COVID-19 test-takers include the holiday's hosting families. Linda Stewart, from Missouri, said she has family coming in from California. 

"We are all vaccinated, but we want to be double safe," Stewart said.

Most travelers will drive at least 50 miles. Nationally, average gas prices are $3.29 a gallon — more than a dollar above last year and the highest holiday price at the pump since 2008. Despite paying up to gas up, and whatever the viral risk, one theory for this surge in holiday travel is people being cooped up.

"Cabin fever, like crazy," Sinclair said. "People cooped up for a year and a half. They need to get out to see family and friends."

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