PHOENIX - Holiday travel is expected to increase in 2021, as more people feel comfortable travelling to visit loved ones, and workers at Sky Harbor are seeing more and more holiday travelers.
In 2019, the TSA screened more than 26 million travelers during the Thanksgiving travel period, a record-breaking number. For Thanksgiving 2021, they are expecting to screen about 20 million passengers. Greg Roybal with Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport says they have been seeing numbers steadily increase.
"In 2021, we have been trending up towards our 2019 numbers. 2019 was our record year, and of course, 2020 was an outlier as far as years go," said Roybal.
Some started their air travels early
Travelers were passing through Sky Harbor as early as Nov. 19.
"We got through security pretty fast. We were actually two hours ahead of schedule, and we just sat at our gate," said one traveler.
Mike Cortez, who came in from New Orleans, said he made the best decision in coming early.
"I got my TSA Precheck, I walked right through. It worked out really well," said Cortez.
For Matthew Rounis, leaving several days earlier means spending more time with family.
"I always watch football with my dad and my grandpa, and I always spend time with the dogs and with my mom and grandma," said Rounis.
Airport gets busy as Thanksgiving approaches
On Nov. 23, travelers are still coming into Phoenix, with just days to go before Thanksgiving. For some travelers, it is their first flight since the pandemic began.
"Flights were a little bit cheaper, and then, just hoping to avoid any rush. I mean, we'll see. It’s OK. I’m personally vaccinated and all my family is. We are kind of taking as much precaution as we can," said Olivia Fredette.
Other travelers heading out of Phoenix say the holiday lines and delays make it all worth it for family reunions.
"I'm just going home from school. We got break, so I'm going home," said Carter Bierman, who was heading to Omaha, Nebraska.
Sallie Dinkler, who runs a passenger pick up business, says she has had 26 trips to Sky Harbor this week alone.
"Sometimes, I'm here as much as six times a day," said Dinkler. "I will be down here tonight and it will be quite busy. It will be a traffic jam actually because I’ve been down here at Thanksgiving before, and it's the busiest day of the week."
"We have additional staff on sight to help with the demand," said Heather Shelbrack with Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. "We have our customer service teams, our operations teams, our volunteer navigators. Everybody is available to help our travelers."
However, as travel numbers rise, so are COVID-19 cases, with CDC officials reporting a 16% increase this week, or an average of 88,000 new cases nationwide, daily.
As airports are expected to be busy, TSA officials are reminding people to check with the airline before heading to the airport, and pack a whole lot of patience.
"It’s anticipated to be one of our busiest times, if not the busiest time this year, and again, it’s really important that travelers give themselves extra time. Check what’s in your bag before coming to the airport. Make sure you don’t have any prohibited items," said Shelbrack.
Some are driving out of town
Meanwhile, traffic was slowly pushing through along I-17 on Nov. 24, but the backup meant some welcomed business for Rock Springs Cafe.
"I know a lot of people hate it 'cause it’s bumper to bumper or worse case scenario, something horrible happened, but it does bring in a lot of our people that come in," said Angel Bronk.
For many, the restaurant's famous pies are actually a Thanksgiving tradition worth enduring traffic for.
"We started building at the end of September, so we broke numbers," said Bronk. "We normally do 12,000 to 13,000 in this month, and we actually -- I was actually looking at it when you guys showed up. Pretty sure we're at 15,000."
"They're delicious, and it's a tradition," said Allie Baire. "It's just a fun thing to do with my parents because there's just so many fun things to do, like around where the pies are."
One driver waited until the last minute to start his holiday drive, just for these pies/
"The whole trip was centered around the pies," said Stephen Schaeffer. "Bringing them too our cousin in Santa Fe, New Mexico. These pies are absolutely outstanding to die for."
Officials with AAA say if you need to hit the road this week, aim to do it at off-peak times, such as in the morning before 11:00 a.m.The worst times this week are after lunchtime, until about 7:00 p.m.
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