Planes, trains and automobiles: Top COVID-19-era holiday travel tips for each mode of transportation


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — It’s not only a 1987 film starring Steve Martin and John Candy (although it is that too). Planes, trains, and automobiles are what as many as 50 million Americans, including some in the Midstate, will be packing in advance of Thanksgiving, according to an AAA Travel forecast. That number would be down from 55 million in 2019, and AAA noted the actual figure could be even lower, based on the current COVID-19 surge.

Even the better end of the forecast range would represent the most substantial decline since the Great Recession in 2008, AAA noted.

ABC27 asked three experts, one with knowledge of each mode of travel in the film, for their top holiday travel tips this year — and a fourth (a national travel writer who’s a Midstate native) whether people should be traveling at all this year. First, the tips:

  • Planes: “The best thing to do is check in using your airline app 24 hours before departure,” said Scott Miller, spokesman for Harrisburg Int’l Airport. “Pay for your bags in advance, and get your boarding passes on your phone. That way it’s a touchless process when you get to the airport.”
  • Trains: “You want to make sure you wear your face covering, and you certainly want to make sure you’re physical distancing when you’re on board the trains and in the stations,” said Beth Toll, public relations manager for Amtrak.
  • Automobiles: “You also want to keep in mind things like extra water and snacks, so that way you don’t have to stop as much as you may usually,” said Doni Lee Spiegel, public relations manager for AAA Central Penn.

As for whether to travel at all, Enola, Pa., native Ben Mutzabaugh, a Washington, D.C.-based senior travel writer for The Points Guy, said the question is more about the origin and destination than the travel itself. First, he said, educate yourself regarding any quarantines or other regulations that could prevent you from having the experience you plan.

“And then once you get past that, who are you going to visit?” Mutzabaugh said. “Are you going to visit someone in a high-risk area? Is it a small gathering? Is there someone there who is at risk if you go and bring coronavirus to them unknowingly?”

AAA expects all modes of travel to be down, although automobile travel should be down the least: just 4 percent, according to AAA’s initial estimate compared to air travel down 48 percent and “other” travel (including buses, trains and cruises) down 77 percent.

Experts disagree as to whether avoiding air travel enhances safety: At baseline, road travel is more dangerous than flying, according to most studies that have attempted to quantify the risks, and in a COVID-19 era, road travel involves more visits to places such as public restrooms along the way. But the wide-open spaces Americans seem to be seeking, such as national parks, are often most easily accessed by car.


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