Despite COVID Warnings, Crowds Descend on LAX for Holiday Travel

This year passenger traffic is a fraction of what it normally is, but health officials are still concerned about a bump in cases

With southern California’s ICU capacity plunging to zero percent due at least in part to a COVID surge brought on by a massive Thanksgiving travel spike, scores of people are still crowding Los Angeles International Airport, hell-bent on seeing family and spreading cheer (etc.) this holiday season.

LAX reports that around 40,000 passengers a day have been going through its checkpoints over the last few days. While that’s just 27 percent of the numbers it typically sees this time of year, LAX spokesman Heath Montgomery tells LAist that air carriers are scrambling to keep up with constantly rising demand.

“The airlines are offering roughly 50 percent of the total flights that they did last year for the Christmas season,” Montgomery said. “We have seen the airlines add a couple hundred flights this week in particular, so we are expecting to see a little bit of a bump in passenger traffic.”

The airport expects an average of 920 flights a day through January 4, up from 846 daily flights around Thanksgiving, and that “little bit of a bump” is actually looking pretty mountainous to frontline health workers fighting to stem the influx of the ill at area hospitals.

Lindsay Burrell, an ICU nurse at Providence Little Company Mary Medical Center in Torrance, says no number of warnings—even coupled with Southern California’s recent stay-at-home order—can roll back the tide if people simply do not listen.

“I am asked all the time, what can we do to help you?” Burrell says. “What you can do for us is stay home. What you can do for us is avoid family gatherings. Friend gatherings… I know you’re tired. Trust me, I know… But if we don’t start complying, our hospitals are not going to be able to meet the demand… we simply cannot.”

Nationally, the TSA reports that just over 1 million people a day flew last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, compared to 501,000 passengers on a single day two weeks ago.

Preparing to board a flight to Mexico City in a face mask and shield, Pasadena resident Diego Cee, 21, tells the Los Angeles Times, “My grandma is getting old, and she has some health problems, so we wanted to see her.”

Andrew Connors, who was at LAX Monday to send his 11-year-old daughter, Meikah, to Ohio to spend Christmas with her mother said he was nervous about putting Meikah on a plane alone until he read up on airline safety measures and inflight air-filtration systems.

“Almost no one has caught COVID on a plane,” he said.

While the Thanksgiving surge may put that statement to the test, we do know that at least one traveler died of COVID on a flight bound for LAX last week, and his fellow fliers were urged to get tested.

L.A. County Health Services director Dr. Christina Ghaly warns that even those who don’t fly for the holidays still pose a threat to everyone around them—and beyond—if they treat this like any other Christmas.

“We’ve all seen images of people out and about. Lots of people in parks. Images of busy shopping centers and retail centers. And we are very worried about what this could mean in the days and weeks to come,” she told the Times. “If you’re still out there shopping for your loved ones for this holiday season, or you’re planning a holiday get-together, then you are missing the gravity of the situation that is affecting hospitals across Los Angeles County and California and this nation.”

RELATED: Passengers on an LAX-Bound Flight Carrying a Man Who Died Showing COVID-like Symptoms Fear Infection

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