As Thanksgiving travel returns, Dulles passengers say they’re comfortable but cautious

More people are expected at the nation’s airports this Thanksgiving, with the widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines, booster shots and an improving economy setting the stage for a busy holiday travel season.

But that doesn’t mean early birds checking in for flights at Dulles International Airport on Tuesday morning didn’t still have the pandemic in mind.



“This thing isn’t going away. I know that I’m vaccinated, so I feel comfortable enough to go,” said a Texas-bound passenger, one among several at Dulles’ departure hall who told WTOP’s Neal Augenstein they didn’t fly at all last year.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking: You see all these videos where some people just don’t want to wear their mask or don’t want to comply because they have some sort of issue with it.”

AAA projects nearly 1.3 million D.C. region residents will head out this week by road or rail, which would prove the fourth-highest holiday travel volume since it started keeping records. While the vast majority — up to 93% — will hit the roads, nearly 80,000 people are expected to fly from area airports.

While air travel is still muted compared to the last normal holiday season in 2019, AAA anticipates an 80% boost in the number of people flying this Thanksgiving compared to 2020, when infection rates were skyrocketing and the first emergency use authorization of COVID-19 vaccine was weeks away.

With over half of the country now considered fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the recent expansion of boosters to all adults, travelers said they’re feeling more comfortable with the risk this time around — if cautious.

“The vaccines, I believe, have a lot to do with it,” said another flyer who entrusted her fellow passengers to respect health guidelines, anticipating the inevitable cough or sneeze midflight from elsewhere in the cabin.

“It’ll be a little bit bothersome, but as long as they’re wearing their mask, OK,” she said.

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein reported from Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital reporter and editor in June 2018. He is a writer and photojournalist focusing on politics, political activism and national affairs, with recent multimedia contributions to Reuters, MSNBC and PBS.

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