FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It’s not quite as busy as a typical Christmas Eve at the airport, still, many people are finding ways to rationalize travel despite health experts’ advice against it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging people to avoid traveling this holiday season to prevent a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases, but many are still coming or going.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, 1,191,123 people were screened Wednesday, the highest single-day total since the pandemic’s effects began in the United States.
By comparison, 1,937,235 people were screened on Dec. 23 last year.
“We already got the coronavirus, so we already have the antibodies,” said Oniel Acosta, who was flying from Fort Lauderdale to North Carolina on Thursday morning. “We are going to wear two masks inside the airplane, and I read that they are cleaning everything and they are recirculating the air inside the aircraft and using filters and [a lot of] stuff to, you know, to keep people safe.”
Officials at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport are expecting about 940,000 passengers to travel between Dec. 21 and Jan. 3.
At Miami International Airport, about 54,000 passengers were expected to travel Thursday, compared to 126,000 on Christmas Eve last year. Miami-Dade officials estimated that about 82,000 air travelers passed through MIA on Sunday, making it the busiest travel day there since the pandemic’s impact began in March.
While the numbers are down from a normal year, it still means that thousands of people will be out flying, which public health officials warn could lead to a surge in COVID-19 cases similar to after Thanksgiving.
“People need to see their family,” said Genice MacDonald, who was traveling to Chicago. “We’ve been isolated and shut down for some time and this is the time of the year it’s so important to be with family.”
FLL is taking precautions by requiring mask-wearing and encouraging social distancing.
Some airlines still have a passenger capacity limit to reduce crowds, while others are now trying to sell every seat on their flights.
One traveler dressed her two chihuahuas in Santa outfits before heading out to Chicago from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport this morning. Here are statistics from @iflymia and @FLLFlyer on Christmas Eve travel during the #coronavirus pandemic. pic.twitter.com/5oHQppVixA— Madeleine Wright (@MWrightWPLG) December 24, 2020
Travelers acknowledge the risk.
“There are some people I see without masks, and I don’t agree with that at all,” said Valeria Galante, who was headed to South Carolina. “And in the plane, I don’t like when they serve snacks and everybody takes their mask off. There should not be any kind of serving or food or beverages on the plane.”
Earlier this month, COVID-19 testing became available at FLL.
The site offers two diagnostic tests. A rapid antigen test costs $74 and the result is available in about 15 to 30 minutes. The PCR test, which is more accurate, costs $106, and the result is available in about 48 hours.