Still planning to fly for Thanksgiving? What you need to know to stay safe

VIDEO: Still planning to fly for Thanksgiving? What you need to know to stay safe

Despite urgent pleas from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid traveling, throngs of Americans are heading to the airport ahead of Thanksgiving.

The Transportation Security Administration said Sunday was the single busiest day at airport checkpoints since the pandemic began in March, with more than a million travelers screened.

2020 has been a year of sacrifice, and for many this Thanksgiving season, COVID-19 fatigue is in full swing.

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“I’m over it, I need some people interaction,” said Cathy Shell, who was flying into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

“We feel, well - they’re family so we’ve got to go and see them,” said Javid, another traveler at the airport.

People say they know they’re taking a risk.

“I was pretty worried about me traveling on a plane and spending time with them,” said Ciara Lugo, who is visiting Seattle for Thanksgiving from San Diego.

The safest thing you can do is not travel or gather with family. But for those determined to fly anyway, to minimize risk, UW Medicine’s infectious disease expert reminds you of the basics.

“This infection is spread person to person by respiratory droplets,” said Dr. Paul Pottinger with UW Medicine.

That means if everyone keeps their mask on while traveling, it dramatically lowers the chance of spreading and catching the virus.

“Believe it or not, I think if everyone could have Thanksgiving on an airplane wearing masks - not eating or drinking, it would be totally safe,” Pottinger said.

Most airlines now use special high-tech spray cleaners between flights, which neutralizes the virus, and lots of fresh air is pumped into the plane.

Delta and Alaska are two airlines blocking middle seats until sometime next year. Southwest currently plans to do so until Dec. 1.

Sea-Tac has also taken dramatic steps to keep you as safe as possible, with coronavirus-sanitizing robots roaming terminals and an intense cleaning schedule.

Travelers will find hand sanitizer everywhere.

And asymptomatic travelers can get a COVID-19 test on the second floor of the airport before flying. (It’s provided by Discovery Health and will cost you $250.)

The airport has installed more than 600 plexiglass dividers to separate employees and travelers and has more than 8,000 signs asking people to stay distanced.

There are also PPE vending machines for anyone who needs an extra face covering or other coronavirus-related supplies.

At many of the restaurants in the airport, employees scan their hands after hand-washing using a high-tech device designed by PathSpot Technologies that looks for contaminants.

The airport also has special MERV 14 air filters that catch 90% of COVID-19 particles, while the HVAC system pumps in outside air.

But none of these measures are foolproof, so remember to look out for areas that get congested, like the TSA line, your gate, or baggage claim. You can take precautions like waiting for crowds to clear before getting your luggage.

Experts say the biggest risk is actually when you get to your destination and meet family or friends.

“That’s the exact time when people are hugging kissing taking off their masks. That’s a high risk situation unfortunately,” Pottinger said. “When people come in from other parts of the country, that risk transmission is much higher,” he said.

That means experts are urging you to make a last-minute cancellation of your plans to gather or travel as cases surge.

“If make the wrong choice for Thanksgiving this year - they may feel fine. They may feel like they might’ve just had a great enjoyable feast. But the implications are real and patients may die because of someone’s decision at Thanksgiving,” Pottinger said.