NYC’s Thanksgiving air travel to dip in pandemic — but car traffic should be closer to normal

Clayton Guse, New York Daily News
·3 min read

New Yorkers' Thanksgiving escapes this year will be analogous to turkeys in flight — they get off the ground, but the journey is awkward.

Traffic at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports is down by 78% thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic — and the Port Authority doesn’t expect Thanksgiving weekend airport traffic this year will be anywhere near last year’s 1.8 million passengers.

Some airlines have added more flights to handle a slight uptick in passengers heading home.

JetBlue last week announced the addition of 25 additional flights on popular routes from New York to Florida and California cities between Nov. 20 and Nov. 30.

United Airlines added 106 new flights nationwide for the week of Thanksgiving — but the company isn’t sure how many people will end up flying.

“The booking process this year is very different than previous years,” said United spokesman Robert Einhortn.

Nonetheless, Einhortn said, “many customers are still booking their Thanksgiving travel, and we expect the numbers to increase over the next week leading right up to the holiday.”

Highway traffic this Thanksgiving is expected to be closer to normal levels.

American vehicle use over Thanksgiving will dip by just 4% compared to last year, from 49.9 million people traveling by car to 47.8 million, says the traffic analysis firm Inrix, which projects American vehicle use.

“Though fewer people will be traveling this Thanksgiving, we expect more holiday drivers than we had over the last few holidays during COVID-19,” said Bob Pishue, an Inrix analyst.

“Drivers should plan alternate routes and departure times to avoid traffic jams.”

To New Yorkers with out-of-town family, getting there isn’t as much of an issue as what they’ll find when they arrive, with the pandemic peaking and the death toll having hit nearly 243,000 on Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Ryan Clark, 31, a software engineer, said he plans to head home to Houston from Thanksgiving to Christmas this year, and plans to quarantine and be tested for the virus before he travels.

But he might cancel his trip if case counts continue to rise.

“I do worry about bringing the virus home or back,” said Clark. "My parents are pushing 60, and my grandmother is 87 and will probably not want to eat outside, even in the relative Texas heat.

“I may change the timing or whether I travel at all if numbers here or in Houston explode,” Clark said. “But I haven’t quite figured out what my thresholds are.”

Marshall Singer, 26, lives in Brooklyn and said he canceled his plans to go home to Boston for the holiday out of fear of catching the disease.

Instead, he plans to drive to New Haven, Conn. and eat a Thanksgiving meal with his mother outside in a park.

“My quarantine plan is to get tested one to three days beforehand and isolate the entire time from then to Thanksgiving,” said Singer. “If the result is negative I will then drive to New Haven on Turkey Day.”

“I have a small family,” he added. “After seeing a lot of the recent data I decided to opt for a socially distanced meet with my mom.”

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