US travel numbers near pre-pandemic levels for the holidays

About 109 million Americans are expected to travel for the holidays despite a surge in Covid-19 cases

More than 100 million Americans are expected to travel for the holiday season this year as Covid-19 infections surge throughout the country. Getty Images / AFP
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Surging Covid-19 infections are not stopping Americans from hitting the road or rails or even flying the friendly skies this holiday season.

About 109 million people will use some mode of transport to travel at least 80 kilometres from December 23 to January 2, according to AAA, a US motoring club.

In estimates released this week, AAA said 27.2 million more Americans will travel this year than in 2020, bringing the total to 92 per cent of 2019 levels. Airlines are expected to post a 182 per cent spike in travellers compared with last year.

Air carrier United Airlines said it anticipates year-end travel to surpass travel at Thanksgiving.

The airline predicts that it will fly about 420,000 travellers daily from December 16 to January 3, up from an average of 400,000 during the busy Thanksgiving period.

The Transport Security Administration said it screened about 21 million travellers during the 10-day Thanksgiving stretch and expects "high travel volumes" for the coming holiday season.

The expected increase in US travel for the holidays comes as the US battles another wave of Covid-19 infections and the arrival of the new Omicron variant, now detected in 36 states.

As of December 1, daily new cases in the US averaged 86,000. On December 14, that number shot up to 117,000. The US currently leads the world in daily infections, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

California, which has recorded a 47 per cent increase in positive cases in two weeks, has already reinstated its mask mandate for all indoor spaces regardless of vaccination status.

US President Joe Biden said the Omicron variant is far more transmissible than the Delta variant, which currently accounts for 96 per cent of infections in the US and predicted a "winter of severe illness or death" for the unvaccinated.

Earlier this month Mr Biden unveiled a multi-step plan to address the coronavirus pandemic by ensuring free and accessible access to vaccines and booster shots.

He also extended the federal mask mandate for domestic travel until mid-March.

The US surpassed 800,000 Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday. In a solemn tribute, the Washington National Cathedral rung its bells 800 times to honour those who died from the virus.

Updated: December 17, 2021, 5:15 PM