'Tis the Season: U.S. Christmas Travel off to a Flying Start with 100M+ on the Move

'Tis the Season: U.S. Christmas Travel off to a Flying Start with 100M+ on the Move

Americans are prepared to defy the challenges posed by coronavirus, crowded roads and packed airport terminals to visit their friends, family and loved ones this Christmas, statistics released Thursday confirm.

The AAA estimates the 2021 Christmas holiday travel period has already started and nearly 110 million Americans are projected to travel 50 miles or more between now and Jan. 2.

UPI reports a year ago, millions of people in the United States spiked plans to travel far from home for the holidays because of coronavirus. Last Dec. 23, there were more than 210,000 new cases nationwide and the United States was in the middle of its worst coronavirus spike of the pandemic.

Barely 12 months later that figure is even higher. According to scientists at Johns Hopkins University, there were almost 240,000 new cases nationwide on Wednesday — with new infections fueled overwhelmingly by the Omicron strain, but that hasn’t deterred those who want to be with the people they love to share Christmas cheer.

Passengers in Christmas outfits are seen in a terminal at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) on December 22, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Alex Wong/Getty)

According to AAA, 6.4 million Americans are forecast to travel by air during the holiday period — almost three times the number who journeyed by plane during the 2020 season, and close to the prepandemic 2019 level of 7.3 million.

That would be a 184 percent increase in passengers at U.S. airports over 2020.

AAA says the worst time to travel on Thursday is between noon and 6 p.m., and the best time is after 7 p.m.

“Americans who canceled their vacations in 2020 want to gather with family and friends for the holidays this year, although they will still be mindful of the pandemic and the new Omicron variant,” Paula Twidale, senior vice president of AAA Travel, said in a statement.

“With vaccines widely available, conditions are much different and many people feel a greater level of comfort with travel.”

The U.S. Capitol Christmas tree is seen in front of Capitol Hill in Washington DC, on December 18, 2021. (PEDRO UGARTE/AFP via Getty Images)

AAA further predicts about 100 million Americans will travel over the holiday period by vehicle, an increase of more than 20 million over 2020.

The only area of travel that’s forecast to see a greater increase over 2020 is the “other” category — which means by bus, train or cruise ship.

AAA projects some three million Americans will travel between now and Jan. 2 by one of these three modes — an increase of almost 200 percent over last year. In 2020, just 980,000 people traveled by bus, train or cruise vessel.

UPI contributed to this story

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Simon Kent