Maybe you’re not planning to travel far to see relatives this Thanksgiving — unless those relatives live near a beach.

The holidays are upon us, even as the coronavirus continues to alter our normal patterns and plans. Travelers have been especially keen on beachy and outdoor destinations during the pandemic — a trend that’s continuing into the holiday season, says Melissa Dohmen, senior brand manager for Travelocity.

Florida locales including Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Fort Myers are among the most popular air destinations for Philly-area residents during Thanksgiving week, Dohmen said. That’s according to Travelocity data, based on a mix of online search and booking trends for the week of Nov. 23 to 30.

“We’re seeing the appetite to take a break,” Dohmen said, “but it just might not be going home.”

In a survey of 1,016 people in September, taken by Travelocity, just 22% of respondents said they would travel over Thanksgiving. Most of that group — 80% — said they planned to drive to their destination.

Poll results released Thursday by the American Hotel & Lodging Association also showed a reticence to travel soon: 72% of 2,200 people surveyed said they were unlikely to travel over Thanksgiving.

Travel increases the risk of getting COVID-19, public health officials said ahead of the holiday.

Staying at home for Thanksgiving “is the best way to protect yourself and others" from the coronavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended this week. If you’re planning to travel, the CDC advises getting a flu shot first, wearing a mask in public, and staying six feet away from anyone who’s not a member of your household. Check travel restrictions before you leave, and bring extra masks and hand sanitizer with you, the CDC said.

But there are signs that air travel is picking up.

A traveler checks in with American Airlines. Through Dec. 31, many carriers are waiving change fees on many tickets.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
A traveler checks in with American Airlines. Through Dec. 31, many carriers are waiving change fees on many tickets.

For American Airlines, the dominant air carrier at Philadelphia International Airport, Thanksgiving is expected to be something of a bright spot in this tough year for the industry.

“During the Thanksgiving holiday, we will increase our flying by approximately 15% compared to the rest of the month, from an average of 3,500 flights per day to more than 4,000 flights per day,” the company said in a statement.

At Philadelphia International, American has 163 average daily departures this month. Departures will peak at 224 flights the Sunday after Thanksgiving, spokesperson Andrew Trull said.

The busiest days for American’s Philly operations — in order of passenger volume — are expected to be Nov. 25, Nov. 29, Nov. 24, and Nov. 28.

Major airlines also have become more forgiving about change fees. For tickets purchased by Dec. 31, 2020 — whether you’ve bought a first-class fare or basic economy — American will waive change fees and allow customers to change their origin and destination cities.

After Dec. 31, American is eliminating change fees on many tickets for domestic and short-haul international fights, though not basic economy.

United and Delta have gotten rid of many change fees permanently, as well.

Holiday travelers should set their expectations ahead of time: “It’s important for consumers to understand that the airplanes will be fuller than they think, and the airports will be fuller than they think,” said Charlie Leocha, president and co-founder of the consumer advocacy group Travelers United.

“There still will be lines,” Leocha said. “You can’t just waltz in.”

The airlines and Philadelphia Airport advise travelers to expect lines. Other advice: Pack snacks, arrive early, wear a mask, and prepare to socially distance.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
The airlines and Philadelphia Airport advise travelers to expect lines. Other advice: Pack snacks, arrive early, wear a mask, and prepare to socially distance.

Officials at PHL are also advising passengers to arrive early.

“Even though there are fewer travelers, the flights are clustered into banks,” said Kate Sullivan, PHL’s director of marketing.

PHL has launched new health and safety features throughout the pandemic, so keep an eye out for signage and floor decals about social distancing and how lines are formed.

Masks are required inside PHL, unless passengers are eating or drinking. And travelers should check their airline’s mask policy, too. For instance, American Airlines does not allow face coverings with exhaust valves or ones made with mesh.

If you’re traveling with small children, Leocha, of Travelers United, recommends getting them comfortable with wearing a mask before the trip starts.

And don’t forget snacks, because airlines have reduced in-flight service during the pandemic. You can plan to bring snacks from home, or check online which concessions are open at PHL. Past security, passengers can fill water bottles at hands-free stations.

The airport has contactless order options for food and beverage through the Grab app, and last month PHL added a delivery option called AtYourGate.

Sullivan said PHL wants travelers to “personalize” their trip as much as possible. "We’re constantly looking at ways we can improve the experience of our guests from a health and safety perspective,” she said.