Thanksgiving brings busiest air travel since pandemic hit in March

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As the United States reached more than one million new coronavirus cases last week, the CDC sent out an advisory, recommending families postpone or cancel their Thanksgiving travel plans, but the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, thousands of flights are still happening all over the country and from all five regional airports in South Dakota.

“It’s one of the busier days we’ve had in many, many months,” Sioux Falls Regional Airport Executive Director Dan Letellier said. 

In April, the Sioux Falls Regional Airport hit its all-time low with passenger numbers down 95 percent. By October, the airport was down about 47 percent. But this day before Thanksgiving, passenger numbers at the Sioux Falls Regional Airport are down about 30 percent.

“Today we have about 1,400 people flying out compared to the 1,900 to 2,000 people we’d expect,” Letellier said. 

But those numbers are based on reservations and may not represent the actual number of people still choosing to travel.

“A lot of people had probably booked a month or so in advance before cases really started to skyrocket both locally and across the country,” Letellier said. 

Jordynne and Nick Mart booked their tickets to Arizona nearly two months ago; they decided to stick with their travel plans out of Sioux Falls for the holiday weekend.

“We are just quick flight there, easy, not around that many people and we’ll just be with my parents at their house,” Mart said. 

The Aberdeen Regional Airport also saw a 36 percent decrease in passengers from the same day last year, largely due to the airlines intentionally operating at about 60 percent capacity to help space out passengers during the flight.

“Right now, as far as Thanksgiving week goes, we’re down about 54% from where we were last year. So to put that in perspective for you, we scheduled around 2,900 outbound passengers this week, whereas last year it was around 5,380 so that is significant,” Toni Broom, Deputy Airport Director for Rapid City Regional Airport, said. 

Rapid City, Pierre and Watertown regional airports are all about 50 to 60 percent down in passengers traveling over the Thanksgiving weekend, but they all say it’s still a big improvement from the roughly 90 percent drop they experienced this spring.

If you are one of the people traveling this Thanksgiving, the CDC has some safety recommendations for your trip as well as resources to look into any cities or states with current travel restrictions for South Dakota.

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