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Airlines See Highest Number Of Passengers Since March. Who Is Flying?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Stay home, says the CDC. Avoid gatherings this Thanksgiving. No thanks, say millions of flyers who have been boarding planes these last few days, the highest number of airline passengers since March. Jay Singh has been reporting on this for Simple Flying. That's an airline news site.

Hi, Jay Singh.

JAY SINGH: Hello.

KELLY: So the highest numbers since March - how high are we talking?

SINGH: So we're only looking at about 1,047,000 travelers. This is well below what we normally see. Even in the lowest of times, we're well over 2 million in terms of daily travelers, so we're still pretty low. But for the times, 1,047,000 - it's the highest on record this year since March.

KELLY: All right. And are the numbers growing as we approach Thanksgiving?

SINGH: So numbers kind of ebb and flow. The 1,047,000 was from Sunday. Monday and Tuesday's numbers were about 915,000. Wednesday before Thanksgiving is usually the second-busiest Thanksgiving holiday travel day, so that could easily cross 1.1.

KELLY: Today, in other words.

SINGH: Today, yes. So that could easily get to 1.1, 1.2 million.

KELLY: Yeah. I'm wondering, are these numbers higher than the airline industry was banking on? On the one hand, as you say, Thanksgiving is always the busiest time of the year to fly. On the other hand, we are in the middle of a pandemic.

SINGH: Yeah. I'd say compared to where they expected it to be in August and September, it's lower. But in the last two weeks, with the spike in cases and all of the travel guidance, it's about where people expected it to end up. It isn't the best thing in the world. It's nothing people are going to be, you know, celebrating about, but it's definitely a sign that there is an appetite for travel.

KELLY: Yeah. I know you're an airline expert not a public health official, but I do need to raise the public health questions that are raised by this. Can we track whether passengers, whether airlines, are adhering to CDC guidelines during all this travel?

SINGH: The best thing that airlines are doing are the mask mandates. That's one thing every airline has. Most airlines have gotten rid of exceptions. You can be banned from flying for a certain period of time if you don't wear a mask, and airlines have also stepped up their cleaning. As for, you know, other CDC mandates, you know, the recommendation to stay home - well, airlines really don't do that. But they are working to make your travel experience as safe as possible - not completely safe, for sure. You still have to take measures like wearing a mask, sanitizing and washing your hands frequently and social distancing where possible.

KELLY: Yeah. Do we know where all these people are going?

SINGH: So most people who are traveling are heading home or to visit friends. Others who are traveling on leisure, say, just for a quick vacation - they're heading to the sun destinations, so think Florida and Arizona.

KELLY: Trying to escape the encroaching winter in the northernmost parts of the country - I want to ask about the rest of the world and where the statistics are on that because, obviously, here in the States, a lot of people are traveling this week because of Thanksgiving. What about globally? Is flying picking up in other places?

SINGH: You know, there are a few markets where flying is just at about where it was last year. This includes Vietnam, Mexico, mainland China. New Zealand's domestic market is getting to about 80-, 85% of what it was in 2019. Looking internationally, the - one of the best places is the U.S.-Mexico transborder market. Delta and Aeromexico, two partners, have said they expect to fly thousands of transborder flights, given strong and healthy demand. And all other airlines are also expecting to upgrade their own capacity.

KELLY: That is Jay Singh. He's a content manager with Simple Flying.

Thank you very much.

SINGH: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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