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Air travel exceeds pre-pandemic levels ahead of July 4 holiday despite rise in Delta variant 


US air travel has exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time and at least 44 million are expected to hit the roads this weekend as the nation celebrates a return to normality over July 4 weekend. 

Almost 2.15 million people passed through US airport screening checkpoints Thursday, according to the Transportation Security Administration. 

This dwarfs the 58,330 recorded on the same day in 2019 and marks the second highest figure on record since COVID-19 started ravaging America, after a record 2.17 million flew four days earlier. 

While Americans celebrate Independence Day and the nation’s increasing independence from the virus and COVID-19 restrictions with cookouts, fireworks, concerts and beach outings, the US is now witnessing a rise in cases of the Delta variant.

More than 30 percent of adults are still not vaccinated and officials are concerned about large numbers of vaccinated and unvaccinated Americans mixing, with Joe Biden warning that ‘lives will be lost’ because of people who didn’t get the shot.

NEWARK LIBERTY INTERNATIONAL, NEW JERSEY: Travellers wait in line for the immigration process Friday as they jet off for July 4 celebrations

DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, COLORADO: US air travel has exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time as the nation celebrates a return to normality over July 4 weekend

DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, COLORADO: US air travel has exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time as the nation celebrates a return to normality over July 4 weekend

JFK AIRPORT, NEW YORK: People head off for Independence Day weekend Friday - one day after almost 2.15 million people passed through US airport screening checkpoints Thursday

JFK AIRPORT, NEW YORK: People head off for Independence Day weekend Friday – one day after almost 2.15 million people passed through US airport screening checkpoints Thursday

More travelers are expected to take to the skies over the weekend with the American Automobile Association (AAA) forecasting 3.5 million airline passengers will be on the move between July 1 and July 5.  

Road trips will prove even more popular, with the AAA expecting 43.6 million to drive.

Marking the highest level ever recorded for Independence Day, Americans are seemingly undeterred by rising gas prices which topped $3 per gallon for the first time since the autumn of 2014 this week. 

In total, 47.7 million people will travel by car or plane over the weekend, 40 percent more than last year and just 2.5 percent lower than the record level set in 2019.   

Hopper economist Adit Damodarn told ABC News that July 4 was the most searched for weekend on its travel booking site so far in 2021. 

Popular domestic holiday spots like Las Vegas, Miami and Orlando are most popular, he said, while those heading further afield are opting for the Caribbean and Mexico.  

Chicago O’Hare, LAX, and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport will be the busiest while Friday and Monday will see the heaviest flow of travelers through the nation’s airports, he said. 

United Airlines recorded its busiest day since the start of the pandemic on Thursday and expects to surpass this record again on July 5, reported ABC.

NEW YORK: Traffic is seen on the road Friday with road trips proving even more popular than air travel

NEW YORK: Traffic is seen on the road Friday with road trips proving even more popular than air travel

NEW JERSEY: Cars line up at the Lincoln Tunnel as swathes of people head away for the holiday weekend. The AAA is expecting 43.6 million to drive - undeterred by rising gas prices

NEW JERSEY: Cars line up at the Lincoln Tunnel as swathes of people head away for the holiday weekend. The AAA is expecting 43.6 million to drive – undeterred by rising gas prices

Overall, two million passengers are forecast to fly with the airline between Thursday and Tuesday.   

Nashville is expecting as many as 400,000 people to stream into the city for its July 4 celebration featuring country star Brad Paisley. 

In Massachusetts, the Boston Pops’ Independence Day concert is back, but the show that usually draws hundreds of thousands to the Charles River esplanade in Boston will be held 100 miles away at the Tanglewood music center.

Beaches and lakefronts are expected to be packed as well. In Southern California, Huntington Beach is planning one of the biggest celebrations on the West Coast, a three-day festival that could bring in half a million people.

The surge in travelers has left the tourism industry struggling to cope with the sudden demand, after it was hammered by COVID-19 restrictions over the last year. 

Airlines which were forced to furlough or lay off staff as air travel ground to a halt last March are now struggling to get enough crew members to fly their planes. 

The TSA has said it plans to hire 6,000 new officers to cope with the surge in summer travel and is launching recruitment initiatives to drive interest.  

Meanwhile, pools and beaches have been hit with a shortage of lifeguards and restaurants and bars in tourist hotspots have been forced to scale back hours due to a lack of staff. 

Joe Biden said Friday (above) he will be celebrating the holiday but warned that 'lives will be lost' because of people who didn't get the vaccine

Joe Biden said Friday (above) he will be celebrating the holiday but warned that ‘lives will be lost’ because of people who didn’t get the vaccine

Biden said Friday he was ‘going to celebrate’ the holiday as he prepares to welcome more than 1,000 people to the White House for a celebration.

First responders, essential workers and troops have been invited for a cookout and fireworks to mark what the administration is calling a ‘summer of freedom’ as COVID-19 restrictions are almost all gone nationwide. 

‘I’m going to celebrate it,’ said Biden. 

‘There’s great things happening… All across America, people are going to ballgames, doing good things.’ 

However, despite the cause for celebration, the president warned that ‘lives will be lost’ because of people who have not been vaccinated as cases of the highly transmissible Indian ‘Delta’ variant continue to rise.  

‘I am concerned that people who have not gotten vaccinated have the capacity to catch the variant and spread the variant to other people who have not been vaccinated,’ he said.

‘I am not concerned there’s going to be a major outbreak, in other words that we’re going to have another major epidemic nationwide, but I am concerned that lives will be lost.’   

Several states, such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Nevada, are reporting an increase in cases of COVID-19 ahead of July 4 weekend

Several states, such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Nevada, are reporting an increase in cases of COVID-19 ahead of July 4 weekend

Health experts blame the Indian 'Delta' variant spreading, making up 26.1% of new cases in the country and as many as 77% of cases in some states

Health experts blame the Indian ‘Delta’ variant spreading, making up 26.1% of new cases in the country and as many as 77% of cases in some states 

Many states where COVID-19 cases are rising have fully vaccinated less than 45% of their populations - which is below the national average

Many states where COVID-19 cases are rising have fully vaccinated less than 45% of their populations – which is below the national average

The Biden administration has prepared for a further rise in the Delta variant in areas of low vaccination by setting up surge response teams as cases of the strain have shot up in the last week

The Biden administration has prepared for a further rise in the Delta variant in areas of low vaccination by setting up surge response teams as cases of the strain have shot up in the last week 

The US is currently averaging about 12,000 new cases and 250 deaths a day now that to 66.8 percent of the nation’s adults have received at least their first dose of the vaccine. 

This proportion is short of Biden’s goal of 70 percent by July 4.

There is a big variation in vaccine take-up across different parts of the country and – in turn – a growing difference in the number of new infections being reported.  

The north-east states generally have the highest vaccination rates while the south and mid-west is lagging behind.  

States including Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi and Nevada are reporting increases in infections by as much as 200 percent in the last two weeks.

All five states have among the lowest vaccination rates, fully vaccinating less than 45 percent of their populations. 

DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, COLORADO: More travelers are expected to take to the skies over the weekend with the AAA forecasting 3.5 million airline passengers will be on the move between July 1 and July 5

DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, COLORADO: More travelers are expected to take to the skies over the weekend with the AAA forecasting 3.5 million airline passengers will be on the move between July 1 and July 5

CHICAGO O'HARE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, CHICAGO: Hopper economist Adit Damodarn said O'Hare, LAX, and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport will be the busiest airports

CHICAGO O’HARE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, CHICAGO: Hopper economist Adit Damodarn said O’Hare, LAX, and Las Vegas McCarran International Airport will be the busiest airports

Mississippi has the lowest of all vaccination rates with less than 30 percent of residents fully vaccinated, CDC data shows. 

Meanwhile, health officials in Arkansas have warned of a ‘third surge’ in the virus as cases have already risen by 202 percent over the last two weeks and people plan to gather for the holiday.

Just 34.5 percent of state residents are fully vaccinated. 

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Thursday warned that around 1,000 counties nationwide are especially ‘vulnerable’ as they are yet to reach the 30 percent milestone.  

This is enabling the Delta variant to spread rapidly, she warned, with cases of the new strain now recorded in every state.

The Biden administration has prepared for a further rise in the Delta variant in areas of low vaccination by setting up surge response teams that can spring in to action and help if an outbreak erupts. 



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