TSA numbers show millions are masking up, making travel plans

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- In photos taken only months apart, San Bruno resident Ester Estrada captured two extremes of the pandemic. During her December trip to Hawaii, she snapped a photo showing a nearly empty flight. In March, she took a family trip to the same destination. That flight was full.

The change is one example of people feeling more comfortable with travel as COVID-19 cases drop in the U.S.

"The airport was completely full. The boarding area was just jam packed full of people. There is no way around social distancing there," Estrada said. "But you know, you just kind of keep to yourself, keep your mask on and just be very mindful of your environment and your surroundings."

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She and her two sons are just three of millions who are masking up and making travel plans.

The TSA screened more than 1.6 million people across U.S. airports on Sunday alone. While that number is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, it's still 10 times higher than travel compared to this time last year.

"We're still traveling with masks. We're still traveling with hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, calling ahead to understand if there are restrictions in place," AAA spokesperson Jeanette C. McGee said. "But when it comes to the volume of people traveling, that's definitely going to feel more normal than we have seen in the past year."

The TSA also reports a daily streak of more than one million screenings since March 11. Travel experts are now warning passengers should not expect an empty plane.
However, locally, agency data shows Mineta San Jose International Airport saw a 53% drop in passengers in early April 2021, compared to April 2020. In that same time, San Francisco International Airport saw a 60% drop. Still, Bay Area airports are starting to see more customers, only slowly.

Estrada told ABC7 News travelers should be prepared as the pandemic has made for some uncomfortable moments.

"There's a lot of anxiety with traveling because there are a few people who will not wear their masks completely," she said. "Or you know, you hear the coughing, and you can see everybody tense up."

If there's any piece of advice Estrada can offer for those traveling during the pandemic, it's to do your research.

Packing for a trip today demands extra space for hand-sanitizer, masks and more. This is just the latest development as the ongoing pandemic has kept people grounded for more than a year, either in a limited capacity or completely.

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