The nation’s airlines are sweating over an unexpected drop in business travel in the last few weeks — and that’s welcome news if you’re a traveler looking to save money.
This month, domestic airfares are down 5% from September 2019 and international fares down about 8%, drops that industry experts attribute partly to the traditional price slump that happens at the end of the peak summer travel season plus the rise in coronavirus cases due to the Delta variant, according to the travel website Hopper.
Prices for flights to Europe are at a five-year low, down more than 30% compared with the same month in 2019, according to the travel website.
But the discounted prices are not expected to last long, with increases likely when travelers start booking holiday trips.
“Everything we are seeing says people are definitely going to be traveling,” said Adit Damodaran, an economist for Hopper.
The airfare roller coaster shows how the pandemic continues to affect the nation’s $1.5-trillion travel and hospitality industry. For the first time since COVID-19 took hold in spring 2020, travel demand this summer began to match and briefly surpass pre-pandemic levels, giving airline executives hope that the industry would soon rebound from more than a year of financial losses.
But in the last few weeks, airlines have reported a steep drop in demand and an increase in reservation cancellations. September typically marks the end of the peak summer travel season and the start of business travel for conferences, conventions and meetings. Industry experts say the uptick in business travel never materialized because of the surge in COVID-19 cases.
As a result, airlines are forced to drop prices to fill the seats left empty by business travelers.
“In a normal year, the fares would stay high because people would travel for business, but that is just not happening,” said Madhu Unnikrishnan, editor of the publication Airline Weekly.
The average domestic round-trip flight costs $260, down from $290 at the end of August, according to Hopper. International round-trip fares have dropped to an average of $700, down from $760 at the end of August.
The average round-trip price of a flight to Europe from the U.S. is $565, down from $665 at the end of August and the lowest price in five years, according to the website’s data. That price was an average of $940 at this time in 2019.
But flying to Europe could become more difficult soon. The European Union recommended this week that its 27 nations reinstate restrictions on tourists from the U.S. because of rising coronavirus infections. The guidance isn’t mandatory, and member countries have the option of allowing fully vaccinated U.S. travelers in.
The slump in business travel and rise in overall cancellations have airlines worried. Southwest, United, Delta and American airlines all revised their earnings outlook for the July-to-September quarter.
“The company continues to experience softness in bookings and elevated trip cancellations, especially close-in, as a result of the rise in the COVID-19 cases associated with the Delta variant,” Southwest Airlines said in a Sept. 9 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. “Close-in” cancellations are usually defined as being within 21 days of departure.
In its own Sept. 9 investor update, Delta Air Lines said “initial revenue expectations were predicated on an acceleration of business travel through the September quarter. The pace of business travel recovery has paused as companies delay or scale down initial office reopening.”
United Airlines said it expects the drop in demand to push total revenue down 33% in the July-to-September quarter.
If the number of coronavirus cases drops or remains unchanged, travel experts say, Americans are likely to book air travel in high numbers for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season. And higher demand usually means higher prices.
“Most airlines have said Thanksgiving and Christmas and year-end holidays remain solid,” Unnikrishnan said. “So far, people are not canceling their holiday plans.”
Bookings and internet searches for holiday flights have started to rise.
“Right now, flight prices for the holiday travel season are up across the board compared to both 2019 and 2020,” said Giorgos Zacharia, president of the travel website Kayak.
Domestic round-trip airfares around Thanksgiving are priced at an average of $300, up 23% from 2020 ($245) but down 11% from the pre-pandemic 2019 fares ($335), according to Hopper. The average domestic round-trip airfares for travel around Christmas are $430, up 71% from 2020 ($250) and up 10% from 2019 ($390).
Rick Seaney, chief innovations officer at 3 Victors, a travel data company, said making flight reservations for the holidays can be tricky. Booking early — up to six weeks before departure — usually ensures that travelers get the lowest prices. But Seaney said another coronavirus surge could keep prices down, allowing travelers to book flights much closer to the holiday season.
“The question is will the prices get better or worse if you wait,” he said. “It depends on what will happen with the pandemic.”
Many people said they are happy to once again be visiting friends and family and that they feel safe doing so during an ongoing pandemic.
“Everyone’s masked up, so it feels safe,” Traveler Anjali Naik said.
The holiday travel season comes as a new COVID-19 variant named omicron emerged.
The new variant was first detected in South Africa and has now spread to many European nations and Canada.
Some people interviewed at San Diego International Airport felt that it was too soon to decide if this will change their travel plans in the future.
“I think there is lack of information right now for me to really feel one way or the other,” Naik said.
Some travelers would like to carry on traveling despite the news of a new variant emerging.
“As long as it doesn’t interfere with our travel, I don’t think it matters will let it play out,” Traveler Marty Douglas said.
The World Health Organization and the Biden Administration consider the omicron variant a “variant of concern.”
The U.S. will suspend travel to many Southern African countries beginning on Nov. 29.
“People will have to do research on how infectious it is and how well it can evade immune responses but what we can see is that the virus has mutated a whole bunch. I think there’s 30 some odd mutations and what we know is that some of those mutations cause the virus to become more infectious,” Chief of Infectious Diseases at UC San Diego Dr. Davey Smith said.
Sunday is expected to be one of the busiest travel days since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and travelers are seeing the rush at D.C.’s Reagan National Airport.
Sunday is expected to be one of the busiest travel days since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and travelers are seeing the rush at D.C.’s Reagan National Airport.
Not everyone flying is traveling for the holiday. Kristen flew to D.C. from Atlanta for business. Her advice after waiting in “ridiculous” lines at security checkpoints in Atlanta: “Get to the airport 15 hours early.”
“Thankfully, I had priority, so didn’t take me as long as I thought it was going to take — it was about 15 (or) 20 minutes. If I’d have had to have waited in the regular line with everybody else, I would have missed my flight,” Kristen said.
Travelers by air or road should plan for delays as the Transportation Security Administration expects hundreds of thousands to millions more will venture out this holiday season over last year. The AAA is predicting most road traffic to be in the afternoon.
Like other college students on Thanksgiving break, Matthew Rodriguez waited until Sunday to travel so he could maximize time spent at home with family.
“Show up early, those lines — they take forever,” Rodriguez, who is traveling back to college in Florida, told WTOP’s Luke Lukert. “I know I’ve been in those lines as long as one or two hours before.”
The WTOP Traffic Center reports that people might want to leave a little early as some of the areas where travelers are dropped off at the airports are crowded.
Air travel is up this year: The AAA projects more than 76,000 residents will fly, which is an 80% jump from 2020. But Thanksgiving air travel is still down 25% pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
WTOP’s Luke Lukert reported from Reagan Airport in Washington, D.C.
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WASHINGTON — It’s the holiday season. Time to gather with family and old friends, even people with whom you don’t see eye-to-eye politically — and this year that may have special meaning.
The geographic self-segregation that has come to define American politics (the difference between where Democrats and Republicans tend to live) is often a subject for the Data Download. But combined with the pandemic, those geographic divides have real world, public health impacts.
After 20 months of COVID protocols, many families and friends are travelling and getting together for the first time in a long time and they are bringing with them different attitudes about the virus and the vaccine. Add it up and it could mean the country is due for another post-holiday season surge.
The change in travel plans around Thanksgiving this year tells the story. More than 53 million Americans were planning to take to the road and the skies this past week, according to AAA.
That’s an increase of more than 6 million people compared to last year, before there was a vaccine and before Americans had gotten exhausted by the pandemic.
The figures show there is still some hesitancy around travel. Back in 2019, the same AAA survey found 56 million Americans were going to travel for Thanksgiving. But this year’s number still represents a 13 percent increases from 2020. It shows more people are breaking out of their community bubbles to see people from other places.
And that’s where the political/health differences come into play.
Every holiday season scores of stories are written about how to talk politics with those you disagree with, but this year those differences may well include a different COVID-19 vaccination statuses for Uncle Bob or Aunt Dora.
As of late-October, the Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 27 percent of American adults had not received a single vaccine dose for — about 1 in 4 adults. But the partisan divide in that 27 percent was remarkable — 17 percent of them were Democrats, 17 percent of them were independents and a whopping 60 percent were Republicans.
So, in some cases, the awkwardness of holiday conversations has risen to a whole new level. Before you start talking about Congress or the White House you might want to ask if your table mate has his or her vaccination card handy.
And it’s not just about sitting around the table together or sharing the punchbowl that provides a COVID challenge. The point of travel is to pull you out of your environment into someplace different and even if everyone at your destination is vaccinated, there is still getting from point A to point B.
The data show space between the two locations can be complicated. For all the talk of the vaccination rates of various states, the truth is just travelling a few miles can put you in a very different political and COVID environment.
For instance, consider Mecklenberg County and Stanly County in North Carolina.
The two places are less than a half-hour apart by car, but the political/COVID differences between them are stark. President Joe Biden won Mecklenberg by 35 percentage points and 59 percent of the total population has had two COVID shots. Former President Donald Trump won Stanly by 51 points and fewer than 40 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.
And the phenomenon is not limited to North Carolina.
In Denver, Colorado, which Biden won by 62 percentage points, 72 percent of the population is full vaccinated. Meanwhile, in nearby Elbert County, which Trump won by 50 points, only 36 percent have received both doses.
In fact, compare maps and you can find similar patterns around the country from Tennessee to Kansas to California — “blue” counties with high vax rates near “red” counties with the opposite.
The unfortunate reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic has become politicized and this year the holiday season seems primed to show the impacts of that politicization as we emerge from our respective political bubbles and interact.
The American Communities Project recently found that urban areas that are more likely to vote Democratic are also more likely to have higher percentages of people who are fully vaccinated. But even the “bluest” high-vaccinated cities area connected by highways that run through very “red” low-vaccinated areas.
In short, even if you are vaccinated and visiting people who are vaccinated, the airports and rest stops and restaurants you visit along the way are likely to be filled with a cross-section of people holding different beliefs about politics and the virus that has disrupted life.
It all serves as a reminder that even in 21st Century America, no political bubble is airtight. We may increasingly live near and socialize with people who share our views, but the fates of red and blue America are more tightly intertwined than either side probably wants to admit.
Dante Chinni is a contributor to NBC News specializing in data analysis around campaigns, politics and culture.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol is reminding drivers to be safe as they hit the roads for a busy day of holiday travel, during the last day of the Highway Patrol’s 2021 Thanksgiving Holiday Counting Period.
The counting period for the 2021 Thanksgiving holiday weekend started at 6 p.m. on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and runs through 11:59 p.m. on Sunday.
So far during this holiday counting period, MSHP’s website reports 58 crashes across the state. During the 2020 holiday counting period, troopers reported a final tally of 321 crashes resulting in 72 injuries and 10 deaths.
Troopers additionally made 100 DWI arrests during last years counting period with an additional 78 drug arrests.
This year, troopers said drivers should, “make sure their vehicles are in good condition and that they are well rested before they start driving.” “Too many people die in traffic crashes each year in Missouri,” MSHP said in a press release. “The choices you make when you’re behind the wheel matter.”
Colonel Eric T. Olson, Superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol also reminded drivers to expect increased traffic during the holiday season and to be prepared for changes to drivers normal routes.
Let’s first begin in the Northeast where more than 8 million people are currently under winter weather alerts. That number is likely to rise through the weekend.
As one system departs New England on Saturday another will gather strength over the Great Lakes on its way to New England on Sunday.
The first system has left appreciable snows in its wake. Roughly a foot has accumulated on some of the higher peaks in Vermont and New York on Friday through Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, around 4 to 6 inches has fallen east of Lake Erie with lighter amounts elsewhere.
“Blowing snow caused by windy conditions are likely to remain a hazard for the interior Northeast today,” the Weather Prediction Center said on Saturday morning. This blowing snow could reduce visibility on the roadways across the Northeast on Saturday.
The second system, an Alberta Clipper, will move through Minnesota on Saturday producing a mixed bag of precipitation over parts of the Midwest — mainly in the form of rain and sleet.
Conditions then deteriorate from west to east through late Sunday as the clipper makes a beeline into New England.
The consensus will be an additional 1 to 3 inches from Minnesota to Maine. Snow flurries may even be seen in New York City and Philadelphia on Sunday.
The Great Lakes are 100% ice free though. Decent lake effect snow bands could setup with the right fetch of wind and cold air as a result.
Therefore some areas could possibly see up to an additional 8 inches of snow, such as those downwind of Lake Erie, due to these lake effect snow bands setting up.
The windy conditions accompanying the clipper will once again cause poor visibility on the roads, as well as a few air delays. Airport delays for the most part on Saturday and Sunday, however, look to be minor in the Northeast.
Atmospheric river drenches the Pacific Northwest
Another area that could see travel delays this weekend will be across the Pacific Northwest.
A level 4 out of 5 “extreme” atmospheric river event is forecast to produce several inches of rain across the Pacific Northwest beginning on Saturday and lasting through Sunday.
A level 4 atmospheric river is categorized as “mostly hazardous, but also beneficial” according to the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E). This means that flooding and landslide hazards could pose a threat across the region, however the amount of heavy rain could also be beneficial for drought conditions or for filling reservoirs.
The heaviest rain is forecast to fall across the coastal regions, including Seattle, on Saturday afternoon and evening before shifting into the Olympics and northern Cascades on Sunday.
This weekend’s atmospheric river event is the second in a series of three storms, the first brought rain to the Pacific Northwest on Thanksgiving Day and the third is forecast to impact the region by Tuesday.
This heavy rain will not just be confined to Washington state; it will extend north into British Columbia in Canada this weekend as well. Both areas have seen an onslaught of heavy rain over the last couple of weeks which led to record-breaking rainfall and flooding.
“Due to high forecasted freezing levels and moist soil conditions caused by the multiple [atmospheric rivers] during 10 to 16 November, a large portion of the precipitation could lead to runoff, exacerbating [flood] impacts,” the CW3E warns.
Flood watches are in effect for over 3 million people across portions of Washington state, including Seattle, as 3 to 6 inches of rain is forecast.
Not much snow is in the forecast for Washington state as temperatures are running 10 to 20 degrees above normal for late November with highs in the 50s. While these more mild temperatures may be a nice change from winter’s chill, they can lead to other hazardous in the higher elevations.
“Mild temperatures and wind will lead to some melting of the early season snowpack,” the National Weather Service (NWS) in Spokane, Washington, said on Saturday morning.
This melting snowpack in conjunction with heavy rain could increase runoff, elevating the flood threat ever further.
“There will also be an increased risk of rock slides and debris flows in steep terrain and the potential to impact roads and backcountry trails, including near burn scars,” NWS Spokane also said.
Those planning to take a drive through the mountain passes this weekend will need to plan accordingly for these hazards or wait until the weather improves on Monday afternoon.
Travelers Care Founder & CEO Shelly-Ann Cawley with Mr. Aristides Cordoba, 80 years-old, Fort Lauderdale International Airport Traveling to Havana, Cuba.
by Howard Campbell
[FORT LAUDERDALE] – As Christmas approaches, Shelly-Ann Cawley is preparing her troops at Travelers Care for the busiest period of the year for the airline industry.
It is a time when families gather for seasonal parties celebrating Christmas Day or New Year’s Day. Many travelers are senior citizens who require professional accompaniment.
Cawley is a leisure industry veteran who started Travelers Carein early 2019. Their prime market is assisting seniors from the United States, Canada and the Caribbean to various destinations.
She envisages a hectic winter season as more persons shed the anxiety of commuting by air due to the Coronavirus.
“With the entire travel industry currently being impacted by continued workforce shortage, weather delays and other factors creating irregular operations, traveling can be even more difficult especially now in a pandemic,” said Cawley.
She added that her company has seen interest for their service from Germany, Costa Rica, Cayman Islands and the United Kingdom.
Ms. Doreen Dwyer, 88 years-old with her grand-daughter Sophia Williams-Coley (left) and Travelers Care Founder and CEO Shelly-Ann Cawley at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Canada.
That service includes:
Arranging all flights
Baggage, Check-in & TSA processing
Ensure all paperwork is completed and in place for travel
Assist with all Travel Authorizations
Ensure all international requirements are met
Arrange wheelchair and other assistive services
Arrange transport on the ground with our transportation partners
We work with airlines to ensure compliance with all FAA & ADA regulations
Complete personal assistance onboard the aircraft
Provide updates, pictures, and constant communication to your family
Provide Safety, Comfort and Peace of Mind for you and your relatives
Like Cawley, Travel Care’s staff has years of experience in the travel and hotel industries under their belts.
It has seasoned them for what can be a challenging job.
“My team and I have learnt personally when working with seniors that the small things are important. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, listening to their stories, addressing them with titles, a hand shake, and or giving them a honest compliment,” she said. “Rather than seeing their impediments we enjoy the experience and humor of the seniors we care for – don’t forget the life lessons passed on to us too.”
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — Santa Barbara airport is seeing a rush of travelers ahead of Thanksgiving day.
After more than a year of virtual celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people are excited to finally reunite in person with their loved ones.
Santa Barbara airport saw a return of their holiday rush on one of the busiest travel days of the year.
Travelers took part in the hustle and bustle of getting in and out of the airport.
“It’s going to be crazy, I have a feeling because it’s like Thanksgiving so everyone is just gonna be going going going,” said Paige Moor, who’s traveling to Tuscon.
COVID-19 prevented many from traveling and making contact with friends and family. This meant traveling services including airports and trains saw a dip in business from the pandemic.
“I’ve flown before COVID and like a little bit during COVID and now to see everything super busy again, it’s super cool and super weird at the same time,” said Delani Wahr, who is flying from Chicago.
The Santa Barbara airport expects millions of passengers by the end of 2021 year.
“For us what that means is that we’re seeing the success in everything that we put into staying safe and providing that ease of travel,” said Angi Daus, the Santa Barbara Airport Marketing Coordinator.
Airports continue to follow CDC protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 including social distancing and wearing masks.
Thanksgiving air travel did not reach the record highs of 2019, but it was close. About 2.3 million people passed through Transportation Safety Administration checkpoints on Wednesday, more travelers than on any other day during the pandemic.
This figure was more than twice as many travelers as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving last year. This year’s total was about 88 percent of the travelers that flew on that same Wednesday in 2019.
BREAKING NEWS: @TSA officers screened 2,311,978 people nationwide yesterday, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, making it the highest checkpoint volume since the low point of the pandemic, which was on April 13, 2020, when only 87,534 people were screened nationwide. #MaskUp
Social media was abuzz with nearly equal complaints about the longest airport lines people had experienced in years and surprise that lines were so short, reinforcing the idea pandemic unpredictability persists.
Among those travelers sharing a sense of excitement about being able to visit family this Thanksgiving, was Katie Thurston of San Diego, known to some as the Bachelorette from Season 17 of that reality show.
Not me crying as my plane lands in Seattle 🥺 Had no idea how much I was missing home. This mask is about to be drenched 😷 Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Feeling so thankful for my family today. 🤍
“To go back to something that feels normal makes me feel so emotional,” she said in a telephone interview, after tweeting about her tearful reaction to landing in Seattle to visit her mother and sister and meet her baby niece for the first time.
Hundreds of airport food service workers picketed on Wednesday at San Francisco International Airport over a dispute involving health care. But contrary to some passengers’ fears — and warnings from the Southwest Airlines pilots union in August — there were no walkouts by flight attendants or pilots on Wednesday.
Amid concerns that passengers would get aggressive with flight attendants and pick fights about masks — issues throughout the pandemic — Attorney General Merrick B. Garland urged federal prosecutors to prioritize the prosecution of passengers that commit assault or other crimes on board.
Typically, the busiest days for air travel during the Thanksgiving period are the Tuesday and Wednesday before the holiday, and the Sunday after it, according to a T.S.A. spokesman.
United said that the airline expected the Sunday after Thanksgiving to be its busiest day since the pandemic began. Still, the day seemed unlikely to surpass prepandemic travel figures overall given how extraordinary that weekend was two years ago. More people flew on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019 — according to T.S.A. checkpoint data — than ever before in the agency’s 20-year history.
And travelers are unlikely to face weather delays as they try to get home.
“Sunday is pretty quiet across much of the country,” said Lara Pagano, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service.
Still, Becky Esquivel, a T.S.A. officer at the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, urged people to arrive at least two hours before boarding their return flights just to be safe.
A handful of people lingered around the counter in Andy’s Deli on 80th Street and Columbus Avenue, ordering bagels and coffee or picking up last-minute holiday supplies as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade rolled on nearby.
Nick Spathis and his staff took orders and rang up purchases from police officers and parade volunteers. Locals trickled in. Across the street, Columbus Avenue was packed.
Last year, Andy’s was closed, the first time Mr. Spathis, who’s owned the business for 33 years, was not open on Thanksgiving. And while this year Mr. Spathis opened at 5 a.m., the morning was quiet.
“It’s not surprising to me,” he said, after handing some coffees to wranglers for the Pillsbury Doughboy balloon. “With the pandemic, everything is slow.”
“It’s getting along little by little,” he added later. “It might take another year.”
Businesses and entrepreneurs along Columbus Avenue, parallel to the parade route along Central Park West, had mixed reactions to whether the parade’s comeback and the foot traffic brought with it an economic boost. For some, the morning yawned on no differently from other mornings. For others, its return brought a high volume of customers.
A few blocks away, Mast Market, which opened one week ago, had its first lull in the morning at about 9:30. The shop normally opened a half-hour earlier than normal.
“There were enough people lined up outside peering in,” Robin Mates, the market’s manager, said. “It’s been nonstop.”
Banca Grucan stood on Columbus, yelling as she hawked balloons, including a Buzz Lightyear one.
Originally from Ecuador, Ms. Grucan has been selling her wares on Thanksgiving morning for 12 years. She had barely sold 20 balloons by about 10 a.m., she said in Spanish, less than half of what she sold in years past.
For the past 40 years, Thomas Johnson has trekked from Connecticut to sell turkey hats on Thanksgiving. Last year, was the first he did not make the yearly pilgrimage. “It was depressing,” Mr. Johnson, 62, said.
On Thursday, Mr. Johnson was all smiles as he stood on the corner of 73rd Street and Columbus Avenue.
“Turkey hats,” he shouted, gobbling like a turkey with his signature headgear.
One happy customer called out to him from the street: “My gobbling friend you got me looking good on Facebook — thank you so much!”
Business was so brisk he could barely keep up with demand. By early morning, he had sold about 100 hats and was ordering more from a supplier.
“I love it — I love it!” Mr. Johnson said, holding some turkey hats and throwing his hands up in the air. The people and the costumes bring him joy, he said. He posed for at least one photo with costumers.
“If my friends could see me now, they’d be laughing,” he added later, saying he’s a teacher. “I wear a suit and tie normally.”
Thousands rushed to book vaccination appointments in France on Thursday after the government announced that all adults were eligible for a booster shot and that health passes would no longer be valid after a certain period if they failed to get one.
France’s health minister, Olivier Véran, said at a news conference on Thursday that France was experiencing a new wave of cases that would be “stronger and longer” than the one over the summer, but that “no lockdown, no curfew, no store closures, no travel restrictions” would be enforced.
By focusing on vaccinations and social distancing measures, he said, “we are making the choice to reconcile freedom and responsibility.”
Some adults who have not received a booster shot within seven months of their second injection will see their passes expire, barring access to restaurants, museums, long-distance trains and other public places unless they get tested regularly, Mr. Véran said.
He said that over 400,000 vaccination appointments had been booked on Wednesday, ahead of his news conference.
About 70 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. But the number of new daily cases has spiked recently to about 30,000 over the past few days, according to French officials, and have reached the prime minister. The recent surge has led to the closure of 8,500 school classes, up from 4,100 last week.
Jean-Michel Blanquer, France’s education minister, announced at the news conference that classes would no longer close if one student tests positive, but that they will require that all students continue to be tested. Only those who test negative will be able to return, he said.
Hospitalizations — mainly of unvaccinated patients — have also been increasing, according to French health authorities.
Mr. Véran also urged the French to observe social distancing rules and guidelines. He announced that starting on Friday, masks would be mandatory indoors even for establishments or events that require a health pass, and that the pass would also be required to gain access to Christmas markets.
“We must remain vigilant at all times, get back to good habits,” Mr. Veran said.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade gets people excited — at least judging by some of the responses I received when I posted on social media last week that I would be marching with the Pikachu balloon.
Growing up, I often watched the parade on television. I have fond memories of a Sesame Street float, a vague recollection of one with Marvel heroes and villains, and I was always in awe of the Superman balloon. (It turns out there were three. The last Man of Steel balloon made his final parade appearance in 1987.)
But as a child I never gave a second thought to what a production it must be to pull off a successful parade. A year and a half ago, I started looking for a way to participate. (I first tried to do it last year, but Covid curtailed the length of the parade, the balloons, the volunteers and the onlookers.)
I was brought into the ranks of balloon handlers — it almost feels like a whisper network, you need to know someone who knows someone — by a former colleague who had marched many times. I told her I was interested in joining in and she helped me become a volunteer on her team this year.
The sign-up process involved uploading my proof of vaccination, watching a training video in the proper care of balloon handling and more. I added a new phrase to my vocabulary: “handling bone.” That’s the device used to hold and tow the lines that ease the balloons down the parade route and, later, to the deflating area.
As a native New Yorker, I’m eager to take part in such a Big Apple experience, though it’ll be a long day, thankfully, if forecasts are correct, with mild weather. I need to check in at 7:15 a.m. and will likely not be done until after 12:30 p.m.
My one worry, as a momma’s boy, was being late to my family’s Thanksgiving lunch, a tradition which stems from a time when my sister and I worked evening shifts at The New York Times. But I dutifully visited my mother on Wednesday afternoon, asked her to keep an eye out for me on television and promised I would eat plenty when I arrived.
A giant, animatronic turkey is once again waddling down Central Park West at the head of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which returned on Thursday in its full, helium-filled glory.
Last holiday, the coronavirus forced officials to order a one-block long, nearly crowd-free version of the parade, which typically runs from 77th Street on the Upper West Side to Herald Square in Midtown Manhattan. The parade, which began in 1924 and is in its 95th iteration, has been canceled rarely, including during World War II.
Along the 2.5 mile route will stroll over 4,500 volunteers towing among them 15 giant helium balloons, old favorites like Smokey Bear, and newcomers like Ada Twist, Scientist, from the popular storybook, who clocks in at 51-feet tall.
The return of such sights — of large crowds, of public joy, of celebrities on floats and beloved characters transformed into balloons — felt deeply symbolic for many who anticipated the spectacle.
“Moments of celebration are important,” said Leroy Lamar, who came with his family to see the parade from Atlanta. “And it is important that we do them together.”
The 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday is notably different from last year’s limited celebration, which was reduced to just one block, with spectators discouraged from coming out.
Around 6,500 people will come together to work on this year’s parade, which will follow a 2.5-mile route through New York City, starting on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and ending in Midtown. Everyone who participates in the parade must be vaccinated, but there is no vaccination requirement for spectators.
Here’s what you need to know about this year’s festivities.
Who will broadcast the event?
The parade is being televised starting at 9 a.m. on NBC, Telemundo and the Peacock streaming service.
The “Today” show’s Al Roker, Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie are hosting the show, which will end at noon.
Where is the parade?
The parade started at 9 a.m. at West 77th Street and Central Park West, but there will be limited public viewing, or none at all, at that location.
Many fans arrived along the route hours earlier to get spots with unobstructed views of the performers. The best places for viewing the parade include Central Park West from West 75th to West 61st Streets, and Sixth Avenue from West 59th to West 38th Streets.
Performers in the parade will include Jon Batiste, Kelly Rowland, Nelly, Mickey Guyton and Carrie Underwood.
Some of the younger participants will include Ballet Hispánico’s School of Dance, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City and a group of competitive rope jumpers. Ten high school and college marching bands — including the Hampton University Marching Force — will also fill the streets. (Children under 12 will not be allowed to participate in the parade itself this year but will be allowed as spectators.)
There will also be 15 giant balloons and 28 floats. Some of the balloons will be as high as four-story buildings or as wide as six taxicabs.
A balloon resembling Grogu — a character from “The Mandalorian” who is also known as Baby Yoda — will fly above the parade Thursday, the first time a “Star Wars” balloon will be part of the festivities.
Ada from the Netflix show “Ada Twist, Scientist”will also make her debut in balloon form this year. The pen tucked behind her ear is the length of 27 real pens lined up.
Pokémon is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a new balloon of Pikachu and his friend Eevee sitting on a sleigh — the blades of which are about the same length as a semitrailer truck.
While McDonald’s has had a Ronald McDonald balloon in the parade since 1987, this year it will debut a new design. The balloon of Ronald McDonald will hold a giant red heart.
“Ronald is sharing his heart with us at a time when we all need some extra love,” the Macy’s website reads.
On Thursday, five members of the extended Dewar family stood on Central Park West at 81st Street in pastel pink and teal jumpsuits and hot pink wigs.
For nearly a decade, Raymond Dewar, the patriarch, had led them through the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But he died in 2020, the year the extravaganza was cut short because of the pandemic.
Now they’re marching to honor Mr. Dewar, said Monique Dewar, one of his daughters.
“We are so happy to be here,” she said, standing next to family members, who were beaming under their masks. “The only problem with the mask,” she said, was “no clown makeup this year.”
The Dewars were joined by thousands of others who had to skip the parade last year.
Minutes before the kickoff, Sergeant Gabriel Vazquez of the New York City Parks Department, sat on an American spotted draft horse named Apollo, holding up an American flag.
He hasn’t ridden in the parade in several years he said, but this year he couldn’t miss it.
Atop his horse, striding down the route, he said, “It’s like we are walking back toward normal.”
For a moment it seemed New York City was almost back to normal.
After the pandemic forced an attenuated, blocklong version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last year, this year the iconic event was set to roar back to life, with the full complement of floats, balloons, and marching bands expected to parade on Thursday all along Central Park West to Herald Square.
And once again it kicked off on Wednesday with another tradition, known locally as “Inflation Day” —the public viewing on 72nd Street of the giant Pikachu, Papa Smurf, Smokey Bear and other balloonstars as they were filled with helium for the parade.
“Anyone wishing to see the inflation of the balloons must get off at this station,” a train driver for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said over the loudspeaker of an uptown C train as it pulled in to the 72nd Street subway station“This is where you see the balloons.”
Just up the subway stairs was another, less welcoming announcement. “Welcome to fascist New York!” an anti-vaccine demonstrator shouted repeatedly at the crowd, which included little children, parents, and veterans in wheelchairs, as they passed by on their way to view the balloons.
And as people streamed east on 71st Street, they were met by a gauntlet of people in red pinnies with “vax checker” written on their backs. The checkers asked everyone to show their identification and vaccination cards, and to put on a face mask.
On 81st Street, Diane Roberts, who works in media in Washington, D.C., was celebrating a what she called a milestone birthday a year late — she refused to say which one — with four best friends who were at last able to travel from around the country to be with her.
Just speaking about being able to see the parade brought tears to her eyes. She wasn’t bothered by the vaccine checkers, the crowd control or the necessity of masks. “It is a cloud over it but it but I still think it’s better to be here masked then not to be here at all,” she said.
A few blocks away was the Lamar family, visiting from Atlanta, Georgia, on their first family trip since the pandemic began more than 20 months ago. They were taking in a giant green dinosaur.“Moments of celebration are important,” Leroy Lamar, who runs a nonprofit organization, said.“And it is important that we do them together.”
The European Medicines Agency approved on Thursday the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, bringing European governments one step closer to inoculating young children.
The recommendation of the European Union’s drug regulator will now be sent to the European Commission, the bloc’s administrative arm, for final approval, which it is expected to do swiftly. It will then be up to the national health authorities to decide if and when they will start inoculating young children.
The decision comes amid a Covid spike across the bloc. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said on Wednesday that European governments should accelerate their vaccination rates, consider booster shots for adults and tighten restrictions in order to avoid a “very high burden” on national health care systems. Approximately 66 percent of the European Union’s total population has been fully inoculated, according to E.C.D.C. data.
All 27 member nations are now inoculating adolescents, according to the E.C.D.C.
The European Commission also proposed a nine-month period of validity of coronavirus vaccinations for travelers coming from outside and inside the bloc.
“It’s good to have a booster shot after the six months have expired,” Didier Reynders, the bloc’s commissioner for justice, told reporters on Thursday, citing evidence that the immunity provided by coronavirus vaccines wanes after six months. “These three months should allow national campaigns to be set up and for citizens to actually get the booster shot.”
E.U. citizens traveling between different member countries will be required to present a vaccination certificate, proof of recovery from the virus in the past six months or a negative test.
The proposal is expected to come into force on Jan. 10, pending approval from national governments.
The commission also proposed new rules for foreigners traveling from outside the bloc: Until now, nonessential tourists from a limited number of countries could enter the European Union regardless of their vaccination status. That list has been updated to include other criteria, including caseload and vaccination rates.
Canada’s health regulator on Wednesday granted full approval for Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, making Canada the first nation to do so.
The decision was made after a third phase of a study showed the shot was 85 percent effective in preventing severe disease and, starting 28 days after vaccination, from death.
“Today marks the first major regulatory approval for the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine and an important moment to recognize the dedication of everyone involved in our Covid-19 vaccine development, our partners, the regulators and clinical study participants,” said Paul Stoffels, the company’s chief scientific officer.
Use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States has not been as widespread as that of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, and studies have found the Johnson vaccine provides less protection than the other two. In April, use of the vaccine came to a sudden halt after U.S. health agencies called for a brief pause so they could study a rare blood-clotting disorder that emerged in six recipients.
The Food and Drug Administration authorized Johnson & Johnson booster shots last month, despite concern among the F.D.A.’s expert advisory panel that data in the company’s application was limited and wasn’t independently verified.
Some F.D.A. experts and committee members argued that recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine needed an additional shot to bolster against severe Covid-19, since that vaccine was less effective than those of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
The F.D.A. discussed data with the committee showing that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was only roughly 70 percent effective against hospitalization, compared with around 90 percent for the Moderna and Pfizer shots. But other data, including from a study of nearly nine million people in New York State, found better results from a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, including for older Americans, by offering durable protection.
Many of those shots have been provided through a deal reached in May, under which Johnson & Johnson agreed to sell about 200 million doses to Covax at a discounted rate. Last week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said that the United States had negotiated a deal to ship additional doses of the vaccine overseas, to help people living in conflict zones.
The tragedy at a parade in Waukesha came less than a week from one of the country’s best known events: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.
Concern about intentional attacks on the parade have long driven law enforcement efforts to secure the route. And New York has seen vehicle ramming turn deadly at other crowded events in recent years.
But the scale of the Thanksgiving parade in New York is so large that it is difficult to draw comparisons, a law enforcement official said. The parade for years has been seen as a high-value target for extremist and terror groups.
“You can’t really take an incident that occurs at a holiday parade in a relatively small city and compare it to what we do in New York City for that event,” said John Miller, the deputy commissioner for the Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau.
The space around the parade is what is known as a “hardened route,” cordoned off from traffic by cars that block roads, sand-filled dump trucks and long gun teams, Mr. Miller said. The security measures include tools as mundane as metal barriers and as high-tech as radiation detectors fastened to the belts of police officers. And, the entire route is blanketed by the Lower and Midtown Manhattan Security Initiatives, a surveillance dragnet that overlays tactics like license plate readers and video surveillance to secure Midtown and Lower Manhattan.
“We don’t worry. We plan,” Mr. Miller said. “It’s a better use of our time.”
Thousands of spectators lined the streets of New York City to watch the return of the full Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.