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Millions Of Americans Traveling For Thanksgiving, Ignoring CDC Advice


Even though public health experts urged the public not to travel for Thanksgiving, many Americans are ignoring that advice. About a million travelers a day have streamed through the nation's airports since Friday. And those airports will likely get even more crowded this weekend. So what are airlines and airports doing to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19? And is it enough? Here's NPR's David Schaper.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: For Christopher Parr (ph), the decision to travel from Reston, Va., to Chicago for Thanksgiving in the midst of a pandemic was agonizing.

CHRISTOPHER PARR: Yeah. It definitely felt like it was a risk. There's been quite a number of health concerns that have taken place with my family, a few emergencies that have taken place here. So we thought it was important to see one another.

SCHAPER: Parr says he went back and forth over the decision but felt he had to travel because of the family crisis. And he takes the risk quite seriously. He'll see just a few people over the holiday. And to reduce the chances of contracting COVID while flying, Parr is geared up.

PARR: So I'm wearing a face shield. And then under the face shield, the next layer will just be a regular surgical mask. And then the closest layer to my face will be the K95 mask.

SCHAPER: Others flying this week include college students on break, many of whom will finish the semester from home remotely, and travelers like Brian Rideau (ph), who is returning to Chicago from a long weekend away with his girlfriend to celebrate her birthday. He says their flight to Houston was half empty, but the return was nearly full. And that presented more of a risk.

BRIAN RIDEAU: I was a little bit nervous because, before, it was just me and her sitting next to each other. But now it's somebody else in that third seat. And, you know, you just don't know what precautions other people are taking. So...

SCHAPER: Because they traveled right before the holiday, Rideau says he and his girlfriend will now spend Thanksgiving at home alone. He gives the airline high marks for ensuring that the plane was clean and passengers practiced social distancing.

RIDEAU: United, they did a good job at making us feel safe. For the most part, just make sure we had our mask on, making sure we had plenty of hand sanitizer.

SCHAPER: While being crushed financially during the pandemic, airlines are desperate to show travelers that it's safe to fly. They're using electrostatic disinfectants. And they say their hospital-grade air filtration systems make sitting on a plane safer than eating at a restaurant or shopping at a grocery store. They're spacing passengers six feet apart while boarding and even removing passengers who refuse to wear masks. But while the flight itself may be relatively low-risk, the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CBS's "Face the Nation" Sunday that other parts of the trip are not.


ANTHONY FAUCI: The airlines are trying their best with the way they get the airflow to prevent that. But sometimes when you get a crowded plane, you're in a crowded airport, you're lining up. Not everybody's wearing masks. That puts yourself at risk.

SCHAPER: Now, airports have stepped up cleaning procedures that are frequently disinfecting high-touch surfaces. They're also using floor markings to help space out passengers at check-in counters and security lines. And some airports even offer COVID-19 testing. Of course, such measures don't eliminate the risk of contracting or transmitting the coronavirus. And that's why even some in the travel industry, which is hemorrhaging billions of dollars and jobs, are urging those who don't have to travel not to. Roger Dow heads the U.S. Travel Association.

ROGER DOW: Heed the guidance. You know, stay home. I'd rather have a little less travel now to come back more quickly down the road.

SCHAPER: But Dow acknowledges that no matter what he and health experts recommend, people will travel anyway. So he's urging those who do to adhere to strict safety guidelines and wear a mask at all times in public.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.