Home for the holidays? Local airports can't curb nonessential travel

Dec 22, 2020

With a regional stay at home orders in effect, restrictions call for people to only travel for essential reasons. But airports have not been slowing down as the holiday approaches.

Despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging Americans against traveling over Thanksgiving, over 5 million Americans passed through US airports over the holiday week, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

With the holiday season in full swing this week, Craig Piper with the SLO County Regional Airport said the airlines are reporting fairly full flights this week, but not as full as Thanksgiving.

“This time of year, setting aside COVID, typically the Christmas holiday season isn’t as heavily traveled as typically the Thanksgiving holiday season,” Piper said.

But nationwide, over 1 million people passed through airports in the US on Dec. 18 and 19, according to the TSA.

In California, though, several regions call for essential-only travel. At a recent press conference, SLO County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein said airports need to stay open, but strongly discourages people traveling for holiday related reasons. 

“There absolutely needs to continue to be flights," Borenstein said. "There are reasons people need to fly and we continue to ask that it only be for those essential trips.”

But what is considered essential? Piper said it's not up to local airports to say what people can and cannot fly for. 

"That’s out of our purview," Piper said. "That would come from the state or federal government to say ‘no, people can’t travel.’ While there is that essential travel requirement out there, we the airport doesn't have the authority to limit someone's ability to go travel.”

Piper said for those who do choose to travel, passengers must wear facial coverings when entering the terminal and on the flight.

But, passengers should check with each airline's individual rules to see the age restrictions for facial coverings.

“You are going to want to check with the specific airline," Piper said. "I’ve heard stories where an infant or toddler, they were required to put a mask on, but they couldn’t make it work and they were pulled off the plane. So it’s best to check with your individual airline to see what their requirements are.”