By Pete Muntean and Gregory Wallace, CNN
Thanksgiving travelers have once again set a new pandemic-era air travel record in the United States.
Passenger air travel reached a new high of the pandemic on Sunday during the return rush from the holiday.
The Transportation Security Administration reported screening 2,451,300 people on Sunday. It was about 85% of the volume screened on the same day in 2019, before the pandemic, and was more than double the numbers from the equivalent day last year.
The previous record was the front bookend of the holiday, Wednesday, November 24.
TSA says it screened 2,311,978 at airports across the country on Wednesday, making it the busiest day at security checkpoints since March 2020 until the Sunday return flights.
The Wednesday number was 88% of the traffic (2,624,250) on the equivalent Wednesday in 2019, before the pandemic. And it was more than twice the number of people (1,070,967) TSA screened on this day last year.
Overall, TSA said it screened 20.9 million travelers over the Thanksgiving week, in all about 89% of what it saw pre-pandemic.
The busy holiday of flying came against the backdrop of a major new development in the ongoing pandemic: the emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
During the Thanksgiving holiday period, governments were busy trying to buy time with a rash of new travel restrictions as they figure out the potential impact of Omicron. Those restrictions have been criticized by some officials as unfair and ineffective.
Goal: Safe and secure
TSA chief David Pekoske told CNN ahead of the holiday that the agency was prepared for the travel surge.
“We’ve looked at passenger volume projections, we’ve worked with the carriers and with the airports, and collectively we’re ready for the Thanksgiving holiday,” he said. “Our goal is to make it as safe and secure and as enjoyable for people as we possibly can.”
AAA predicted 53.4 million Americans would travel for the holiday, including millions by air. Pekoske warned travelers to “just be patient” navigating travel, especially because some people have traveled infrequently or not at all since the pandemic began.
At the same time, the Justice Department says it will finally crack down on the thousands of passengers accused of violence and outbursts on aircraft. Attorney General Merrick Garland directed federal prosecutors to prioritize charges against unruly passengers.
The Federal Aviation Administration has received more than 5,300 cases, launched more than 1,000 of its own investigations and issued $1.6 million in fines.
But some aviation groups have been calling for prosecutors to step in because the Justice Department does not have the authority to pursue criminal charges. The FAA said it has turned over 37 cases to the DOJ.
Covid safety tips for flying this holiday season
With what’s already proving to be a busy holiday flying season, you might be understandably nervous about Covid-19. Here are some tips on how to keep you and your family safe — and reduce stress — while flying:
Fly off-hours and on less busy days
If you can travel to and from your destination on less busy travel days, you and your family will encounter fewer people and may be more successful at social distancing, said Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.
Book window seats
Experts suggest booking window seats for children (or adults) who are not vaccinated, partly due to the air vents along the inside panels of most planes.
Delay your meal
You can also protect yourself by eating when everyone else is masked, Marr suggested.
“When they come around and serve drinks and snacks, I’ll take it but I don’t eat them right away because that’s when everyone else has their masks off,” she said.
Learn more about these three tips and get five more good ones by clicking here.
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CNN’s Sandee LaMotte contributed to this report. Top image: Travelers make their way through TSA security at Denver International Airport in Colorado the day before Thanksgiving on November 24. (RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post/Getty Images)