US airports see 3M over Thanksgiving, biggest crowds since March

As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise across the United States, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pleaded with Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving. Still, many ventured out. 

As Wisconsinites returned home Sunday, Nov. 29, FOX6 found few passengers waiting for long in the terminal at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. While it was not as busy as anticipated, there were still some surges in foot traffic throughout the day; many people, traveling with a sense of optimism. 

"I was expecting today to be busier," said Quinn Easton.

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The Thanksgiving holiday marked another unprecedented milestone amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"But it’s OK," said Easton. "I’m OK with not a full flight."

Even with warnings from the CDC that travel increases your risk of getting and spreading the virus, many still opted to see family. 

"I definitely felt comfortable flying," said Easton.

Easton, originally from Oshkosh, now lives in Florida. She traveled to Wisconsin for the holiday, and said she felt comfortable with safety measures at the airport and among her own family on Thanksgiving.

"There was not a lot of people and everybody wore face masks," she said.

Likewise, Ron and Wendy Baake, who traveled from Milwaukee to North Carolina, said they felt precautions were taken seriously by other travelers, too. 

"I feel a lot more people are being responsible about wearing masks and trying to get past all this," said Ron Baake.

While the airport saw surges in travel for the holiday, Mike Lowrey of Renaissance Books said there is still no comparison to years past. 

"The sales were so tiny, it was literally not enough to cover the wages of the staff that were there," said Lowrey. "You can spread the love on the phone or through internet chat or whatever, so people are staying home."

According to the TSA, Wednesday, Nov. 25 marked the busiest air travel day since March, with more than 1.07 million people passing through security checkpoints. That number, however, is still down significantly from the 2.6 million travelers on the same day last year. 

The number of people flying for Thanksgiving is down by more than half from last year because of the rapidly worsening outbreak. However, between Friday, Nov. 20 and Sunday, Nov. 22, there were 3 million who went through U.S. airport checkpoints. This signified the biggest crowds since mid-March when the COVID-19 crisis took hold in the United States.