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COVID-19 slows busiest air travel weekend at South Florida airports

MIAMI, Fla. – Had it been a regular Thanksgiving holiday travel season and not in the midst of a pandemic, airport officials said there would have been twice as many passengers.

At Miami International Airport Sunday afternoon, one traveler described the scene as a “ghost town.” Traffic picked up as the day went on with some lines at MIA and a steady flow of activity into Sunday evening as the Thanksgiving holiday weekend came to a close.

Andres Casellas was checking in for his flight, getting ready to head back to Puerto Rico. He was in South Florida visiting family for Thanksgiving.

Cassellas said about his choice to fly for the holidays: “It’s been pretty crazy. You have to get used to different things. But I think if you are safe at the airport and you’re safe where you go, it is what it is. We gotta keep living.”

At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, officials expected Saturday and Sunday to be the busiest, anticipating about 80,000 passengers each day. Officials have not yet released tracking data.

Throughout the country, the busiest air travel day since the pandemic halted much travel in March came on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving when TSA reported that 1,070,967 people passed through security at America’s airports. That number is just 40 percent of last year’s passenger volume on the same day, when 2,602,631 people were screened.

[RELATED: See the TSA report comparing travel from 2020 to 2019.]

Experts believe that many people decided to travel to their destinations by car instead.

However, the Centers for Disease Control is encouraging people to not travel and to stay home this holiday season.

The CDC warns that travel increases the chance of getting and spreading COVID-19, especially air travel.

“Air travel requires spending time in security lines and airport terminals, which can bring you in close contact with other people and frequently touched surfaces. Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and sitting within 6 feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local 10.com.