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Air travel expected to surge for holiday despite health warnings

SEATTLE — Sunday is expected to be one of the busiest and most crowded days in months at the airport.

Despite the constant echoes of health warnings urging people and families not to travel for Christmas, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is seeing a surge anyway.

In the next 48 hours, more than 100,000 people are ticketed to come through the airport and over what many predict and hope could be the last holiday lockdown during the pandemic.

“We’re expecting at this point from the projections is something about the type of traffic we saw during the busiest days of the Thanksgiving holiday but spread out to more days,” said airport spokesperson Perry Cooper.

However, COVID-19 concerns are still taking a massive bite out of the typical bustle at this time of year. Three months before anyone ever heard of the word “coronavirus,” the airport was bustling with travelers.

“It’s a huge difference. We’re still looking or anywhere from 65% to 75% lower than what we’ve seen in the past,” Cooper said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health leaders are bracing themselves for another uptick in infections if people travel now the way they did over Thanksgiving.

“Especially during this holiday season when gathering is so much part of our tradition. The virus is not going to relent over the holidays or in the next few months, and we can’t either. Please don’t give anyone COVID-19 as an unintentional holiday gift,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, with Public Health - Seattle & King County.

While travelers hit the road and hope for the best, some are making no plans. “Just Zoom calls,” said one person.

The man told KIRO 7 he is used to traveling and visiting relatives, but he believes being on the go is too much of a gamble.

“Just you know, staying by myself in my apartment. I already have the experience of doing Thanksgiving, so, cook dinner again, share presents, gift cards, electronic gift cards is what I’m sending everybody pretty much, so they can just buy whatever they want, and have it shipped out.” the man said.

The man is not alone. AAA estimates travel by car will be down overall by 30% this week over last year. However, 81 million people are expected to travel somewhere this week for the holidays in a car.