TAMPA, Fla. — The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is typically one of the busiest travel days of the year. While health experts are warning people to stay home, some are taking the risk to see their families for the holiday.
All week, Tampa International Airport has seen an uptick in passengers.
“We’ve seen probably between 35,000 and 40,000 passengers a day. That’s about half of what we saw this time last year,” said Tampa International spokesperson Emily Nipps.
The airport had a record day on Sunday since its traffic plunged in March due to the pandemic. Nipps says the Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving are typically their two busiest days as people are trying to rush back home. The airport expects to hit closer to 50,000 passengers on those days.
While it's looking more like an active airport, staff expect a lot of people traveling this week who haven’t traveled all year.
“Everyone’s got to wear masks,” said Nipps. “There’s going to be distancing markers on the floors, at Starbucks lines, outside of our shuttles at the TSA checkpoints. So you want to give yourself enough time and to make sure you can maintain that space and you’re not feeling rushed, you’re not feeling like you have to crowd into spaces.”
Passengers will also find touchless features and sanitizing stations throughout the airport.
One of the big perks for passengers is on-site COVID-19 testing in a partnership with Baycare Health System. In October, Tampa International started offering testing for a price, located right inside the main terminal. Passengers can get either a rapid antigen test or a PCR test.
“We have had instances where people found out that they had COVID right before they were about to travel, and they changed their travel plans, and that’s really what that’s designed to do,” said Nipps.
Recently, Nipps says the airport is testing anywhere from 100 to 200 passengers a day. In total since the program started, she thinks about 4,000 people have gotten a COVID test.
The airport test site is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Nipps says they’ve extended testing through the end of the year and hope to extend beyond that as well.
Health officials note that COVID tests are point-in-time diagnostic tools and that a negative result doesn’t rule out developing COVID-19 in the future.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to travel, and it’s nice to be close to your family on the holiday," said Mary Willis, who is flying to Portland, Oregon.
Passengers are also taking extra precautions on their own to stay safe while traveling. Lisa Wren is visiting the Bay area from Texas and says she got tested before she flew.
“We’ll get tested when we go home because it’s the right thing to do, and then we’ll stay separate from our kids and our acquaintances until we feel safe," said Wren.