There’s just over a month left to the year 2020, but it managed to get in one final jab at Kathryn Shea Duncan.

The Crowley native and Lake Charles resident booked a flight to Chicago for the week of Christmas just after Hurricane Laura pounded her area. For a dirt cheap price of $50 roundtrip, she made the leap of faith that maybe many people won’t be flying then due to COVID-19 concerns.

On Wednesday, she cancelled her trip for the second time amid a coronavirus surge that is out of control in the midwestern states. Another disappointment for the public relations director for Visit Lake Charles who was also featured in a Nov. 10 New York Times report on the city’s recovery (“How do you advertise a town ravaged by hurricanes?”).

“It was like pulling the plug on something you were looking forward to for quite some time, especially after what Laura and Delta did to us,” she said. “I was really looking forward to that. It was pretty difficult, but it was pretty easy (to cancel) online. It was a quick, bitter moment.”

The surge in virus cases across the country has put the brakes on travel plans for many Americans for Thanksgiving and Christmas, two traditionally peak travel seasons. The season was predicted to be down by 10% nationally compared to a year ago, said AAA Louisiana spokesman Don Redman said, with travel in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma predicted to drop by 9%.

That would be the lowest drop since 2008, he noted.

It leaves people with travel plans with a decision to make: Stay or go? The Center for Disease Control on Thursday pleaded with Americans to stay put on Thanksgiving and not to spend the holiday with people outside of their household.

The CDC’s Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz cited more than 1 million new cases in the U.S. over the past week as the reason for the new guidance.

Even if people ignored the advisory, many cities are being strict with visitors. Duncan would have had to either quarantine during her stay or get tested upon arrival and face restrictions per city guidelines.

About 95% of Thanksgiving travel will be done by car, truck or SUV, Redman said, up slightly from the usual 90%. Air travel is expected to drop by nearly half, going from 4.6 million flyers in 2019 to 2.4 million.

“Right now we have a lot of people who want to go somewhere, but there’s just not a lot of places they can go,” said Cynthia Swain, travel consultant with Pearson’s Travel World in Baton Rouge. “The big factor they have to think about is who is open today may not be open tomorrow when they’re ready to go. It’s tough even in the U.S. to get point to point. It’s just kind of a catch-22 right now trying to book anything.”

At Baton Rouge Metro Airport, the load factor — or percentage of seats on flights that are occupied — should be similar to last Thanksgiving, spokesman Jim Caldwell said. The load factor was 78%, and this year it’s currently over 70% on peak days during the holidays.

The number of seats on flights out of Metro Airport has dropped by about half since the start of the pandemic, a decline that has been seen at virtually all U.S. airports, Caldwell said. Passenger volumes have been down about 52% from a year ago; in contrast back in April, passenger volumes at the airport were down 95%, he said.

Caldwell said it isn’t known yet if the CDC guidelines will cause a significant number of passengers to change their flight plans.

“Most people planning to travel had already booked their flights before the CDC statements, so it is a matter of whether the choose to cancel more than whether they choose not to book,” he said.

Air traffic at the Lafayette Regional Airport should bump up some for Thanksgiving as it’s done in recent weeks at the airport, director Steve Picou said. Traffic in the last two weeks has picked up, and Delta will increase its daily departures out of LFT from four to five, he said.

The most recent airport data shows LFT had 10,000 arriving and departing passengers in September, the first month to top 10,000 since the pandemic began.

The airlines, he noted, are taking extreme safety measures on flight. Delta continues to not sell the middle seats on its flights.

“We’re expecting a slight bump for people traveling, but it won’t be anywhere near last year’s numbers,” Picou said. “Our numbers are coming back. More and more people are getting comfortable with (flying). In a normal year, we’re 600-650 passengers (a day). The last couple of days we’ve been in excess of 500. So that’s great news.”

One popular place that has not put in travel restrictions is Mexico, Swain noted, and Cozumel and Cancun have become popular destinations this holiday season.

The destination could be ideal for those who may have cancelled their summer vacation plans and are itching to go on a trip, said Maegan Sonnier with Travel Machine in Lafayette.

The drop in airfare prices make it an easy sell. Tickets that traditionally sell for $400-$450 were going for $230 last week, she said.

“Half price, basically,” Sonnier said. “This is the most holiday travel we’ve probably done in the Caribbean. It’s all-inclusive. There’s great deals right now. When you can get an airline ticket for $200 a person, it’s a lot easier now for a family of four or six to travel now. People are doing it and taking the chance.”

As of now, Sally Brockman of Lake Charles is planning to take that chance. She is debating whether to fly to Oregon for two weeks around Christmas to visit her grandmother under COVID-19 conditions or cancel the flight and stay in place.

Several reports on the web debates the pros and cons of traveling. Brockman’s focus is on her 88-year-old grandmother, who she hasn’t seen in two years.

“We were supposed to go this summer but cancelled because of the virus,” she said. “Even if we did see her, it would be from six feet away and fully masked up. It would not be anything close to the normal Christmas that we’re used to.

“I don’t know what the right direction is. I’m trying really hard to be as logical and objective about it as possible and not let my emotions cloud my decision-making process.”

Staff Writer Timothy Boone and the Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Acadiana Business Today: Will COVID-19 slow down holiday air travel? Depends on where you're flying


Email Adam Daigle at adaigle@theadvocate.com.