Americans ignore CDC holiday travel advice

Spoiler alert: It's not going to end well

Many Americans are ignoring the government's urgent holiday travel advice. Instead of staying home during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends, they're going places, according to the latest research. 

Do you really need me to tell you it's not going to end well? OK: It's not going to end well.

Here's what the CDC says: "Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year."

But a lot of people aren't paying attention. AAA's forecast of 50 million Thanksgiving travelers now seems a little conservative. Its initial projections were just 5 million travelers below the 2019 levels. TSA screening numbers suggest many people are still flying.

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Where are they going? South. Leisure demand in Latin America drove a 70 percent capacity increase in Mexico, particularly to vacation destinations like Puerto Vallarta, Cancun and San Jose del Cabo, according to OAG.

That’s right, 70 percent.

“Some carriers such as American look like they will increase capacity in the weeks leading up to Christmas," says John Grant, a senior analyst at OAG.

By the way, the CDC says you should avoid all travel to Mexico.

In the United States, travelers are also thumbing their noses at the CDC, at least in certain parts of the country.

Here's daily foot traffic at U.S. airports in the last two months. It's trending down, "but only slightly," according to David Steinberg, co-founder and CEO of Zeta Global.

"The southeast has actually had increasing airport traffic over the last two weeks of November and this includes Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa and Atlanta specifically," he says.

Wrong way, guys!

And just in case you forgot, here's where we're headed, in terms of COVID-19 cases. It's the other direction. Here's a chart with projections from Oliver Wyman.

Why are Americans traveling anyway?

So why are people traveling, despite the CDC warning? I asked.

"One size does not fit all," Dale Mellor, an accountant from Boulder City, Nev., told me. He says he read and understood the CDC advisory, but that it doesn't necessarily apply to him.

"If those in the high-risk category feel they are in danger, they should not travel. I understand and respect their decision. However, I have chosen to live my life without the constant fear of getting sick. Just as I respect the opinions of the anti-travel group, I feel my belief system should also be respected," he told me.

Lila Brown, a talent manager from Los Angeles, has traveled all over the world during the pandemic -- to Sudan, Mexico, and around the country to Atlanta, Washington and New York.

"I feel as though the CDC advice can be safely ignored because I practice social distancing," she says. "I wear two masks, one for medical and one for fashion. Both have been effective."

Travel advisors are seeing increased demand for vacations, too.

"Some of our customers want to travel now," John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Network and Leisure Group, told me earlier this week. "They want to go to the beach."

Travel Leaders' is about to unveil a new program called "Book With Confidence" that promises to give travelers information about COVID-19 with advice on how to stay safe before, during and after a trip. Here's my exclusive interview with Lovell.

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How will this end?

Of course, no one knows how this will end. But we can make an educated guess, based on what scientists have told us. 

If you don't believe COVID-19 exists or that this is a media conspiracy, there's really nothing I can say that will change your mind. I have to assume you're reading this for entertainment value.

It only takes a few people to spread COVID-19, and travel is believed to be one of the leading causes of the virus spread. That's presumably why the CDC has issued its advisories -- to stop the unchecked spread of COVID. 

If people continue to travel and do not observe social distancing and mask rules, then the projections are dire. Here are the new infections projections from the CDC.

If Americans continue to ignore the CDC's travel advice, it can't end well. You remember the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally last summer? Multiply that by a few thousand.

My advice is unchanged: Stay home if you can. Avoid all nonessential travel until you get the green light. It won't be long.

What are your plans? Do you distrust the CDC and are you making vacation plans? Or are you battening down the hatches for the second wave? Your comments are welcome.

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