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Flights Projected To Hit Pandemic-Era Highs As United CEO Says People Aren’t Canceling

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Topline

The CEO of United Airlines said Monday the next two weeks will be the busiest the airline has seen since the pandemic began—with no drop-off on domestic travel due to the new omicron variant—as travel projections suggest holiday travel will surge compared to 2020 even as the new coronavirus strain rapidly takes hold in the U.S.

Key Facts

Slightly more than 420,000 customers a day are expected to travel on United flights over the next two weeks, CEO Scott Kirby told Good Morning America, marking the highest levels recorded during the pandemic so far.

Those numbers are still approximately 13% lower than pre-pandemic holiday travel, Kirby said.

The CEO said the company has not experienced an uptick in cancellations on domestic flights due to the omicron variant and “demand has not dropped off.”

He did say international travel has “dropped off pretty significantly” in light of new restrictions in response to the new strain.

Kirby’s projections are in line with AAA’s holiday travel forecast, which was released December 14 and predicts 6.4 million people will travel by air between December 23 and January 2—a 184% increase over the same period in 2020, but down 12.6% from 2019.

The Transportation Security Administration reports more than 2 million people have already passed through its security checkpoints every day since Thursday, approximately double the number recorded on the same days in 2020, but still slightly below 2019 levels.

Big Number

109.5 million. That’s the total number of people AAA predicts will travel over the holidays, including 100.1 million traveling by car and 2.9 million traveling by other methods of transportation like trains, buses and cruises. That’s up by 33.9% over 2020, but still 8.2% lower than the 119.3 million people that traveled in 2019.

Crucial Quote

“If people need to travel and want to travel for the obvious family reasons, during this holiday season, if you’re vaccinated and you’re boosted and you take care when you go into congregate settings like airports to make sure you continually wear your mask, you should be okay,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told Meet the Press Sunday about the risk of traveling as omicron spreads. “But we are going to see breakthrough infections.”

Contra

Polling suggests some people have called off holiday travel plans due to the omicron variant, even if it isn’t a majority of travelers. An Axios/Ipsos poll conducted December 3-6 found 23% of respondents planned to cancel their travel plans in light of the variant, and a Morning Consult poll conducted December 13 found 68% of respondents do not plan to book any holiday travel. 

Key Background

The omicron variant has been rapidly spreading in the U.S. since being first identified in the country on December 1, already surging in New York City and increasingly taking hold nationwide. Though the variant has already prompted new mask mandates and restrictions, the news that it hasn’t prompted a major uptick in travel cancellations reflects polling (by Morning Consult, Gallup and Axios/Ipsos) suggesting that people aren’t really changing their behavior in light of the new variant.

Further Reading

Americans Are Concerned About Omicron—But Won’t Change Their Plans For It, Poll Finds (Forbes)

‘New Normal’: U.S. Travelers Are Not Panicking Over Omicron (Forbes)

Millions plan to travel for Christmas, New Year’s as omicron spreads (Washington Post)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus




Topline

The CEO of United Airlines said Monday the next two weeks will be the busiest the airline has seen since the pandemic began—with no drop-off on domestic travel due to the new omicron variant—as travel projections suggest holiday travel will surge compared to 2020 even as the new coronavirus strain rapidly takes hold in the U.S.

Key Facts

Slightly more than 420,000 customers a day are expected to travel on United flights over the next two weeks, CEO Scott Kirby told Good Morning America, marking the highest levels recorded during the pandemic so far.

Those numbers are still approximately 13% lower than pre-pandemic holiday travel, Kirby said.

The CEO said the company has not experienced an uptick in cancellations on domestic flights due to the omicron variant and “demand has not dropped off.”

He did say international travel has “dropped off pretty significantly” in light of new restrictions in response to the new strain.

Kirby’s projections are in line with AAA’s holiday travel forecast, which was released December 14 and predicts 6.4 million people will travel by air between December 23 and January 2—a 184% increase over the same period in 2020, but down 12.6% from 2019.

The Transportation Security Administration reports more than 2 million people have already passed through its security checkpoints every day since Thursday, approximately double the number recorded on the same days in 2020, but still slightly below 2019 levels.

Big Number

109.5 million. That’s the total number of people AAA predicts will travel over the holidays, including 100.1 million traveling by car and 2.9 million traveling by other methods of transportation like trains, buses and cruises. That’s up by 33.9% over 2020, but still 8.2% lower than the 119.3 million people that traveled in 2019.

Crucial Quote

“If people need to travel and want to travel for the obvious family reasons, during this holiday season, if you’re vaccinated and you’re boosted and you take care when you go into congregate settings like airports to make sure you continually wear your mask, you should be okay,” Dr. Anthony Fauci told Meet the Press Sunday about the risk of traveling as omicron spreads. “But we are going to see breakthrough infections.”

Contra

Polling suggests some people have called off holiday travel plans due to the omicron variant, even if it isn’t a majority of travelers. An Axios/Ipsos poll conducted December 3-6 found 23% of respondents planned to cancel their travel plans in light of the variant, and a Morning Consult poll conducted December 13 found 68% of respondents do not plan to book any holiday travel. 

Key Background

The omicron variant has been rapidly spreading in the U.S. since being first identified in the country on December 1, already surging in New York City and increasingly taking hold nationwide. Though the variant has already prompted new mask mandates and restrictions, the news that it hasn’t prompted a major uptick in travel cancellations reflects polling (by Morning Consult, Gallup and Axios/Ipsos) suggesting that people aren’t really changing their behavior in light of the new variant.

Further Reading

Americans Are Concerned About Omicron—But Won’t Change Their Plans For It, Poll Finds (Forbes)

‘New Normal’: U.S. Travelers Are Not Panicking Over Omicron (Forbes)

Millions plan to travel for Christmas, New Year’s as omicron spreads (Washington Post)

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus

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