After San Antonio travelers returned to the skies to reunite with family and friends in November, the question is whether the coronavirus’ new omicron variant will dampen air travel for the holidays to come.

In numbers edging closer to pre-pandemic normal, daily passenger counts at the San Antonio International Airport during one of the busiest travel months of the year averaged 13,308. That figure is just under that of November 2019, when 14,780 people passed through the San Antonio airport on a daily basis. 

Last year, the airport saw 5,739 daily passengers during the same month — a slight increase from the months prior when the pandemic confined most people to home — but still far fewer than in previous years.

The busiest days at the San Antonio airport during the holiday week were Nov. 27 and 28, the weekend after Thanksgiving, when more than 15,000 travelers caught flights each day in and out of San Antonio.

The total number of passengers between Nov. 18 and 28 came to 143,213. The slowest day was Thanksgiving Day, with just under 9,000.

“The holidays are the busiest time of the year, especially now that travelers are vaccinated and traveling more, so we anticipated more passengers during Thanksgiving,“ said Jesus Saenz, director of airports, San Antonio Airport System. “We also anticipate an increase in passenger activity during the peak of the Christmas holiday season.”

Air travel was up nationwide during Thanksgiving week, especially the weekend following. 

The Transportation Safety Administration processed nearly 2.5 million people on Sunday, Nov. 28, the most since Feb. 15, 2020.

During the seven-day period starting Nov. 22, TSA reported processing 14.4 million people.

Those numbers nearly matched the expectations of travel organization AAA, which had predicted 4.2 million Americans would travel by air between Nov. 24 and 28 for this year’s Thanksgiving.

The total volume of passengers processed by TSA agents for the 10 days between Nov. 20 and Nov. 28 was 20.9 million, or about 89% of pre-pandemic levels.

The recent spread of the omicron variant has prompted U.S. authorities in recent days to restrict some international travel, initiate tighter virus testing for travelers flying into the United States, and extend until mid-March the mask mandate on airplanes, in airports, and on other public transportation.

But officials have stopped short of urging people not to travel as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did ahead of the 2020 winter holidays.

During a visit to the National Institutes of Health on Thursday, President Joe Biden said the new variant is a cause for concern but not panic.

“We knew there’d be cases of omicron here in the United States, and it’s here,” he said. “But we have the best tools, the best vaccines in the world, the best medicine and the best scientists, and we’re going to fight this variants with science and speed, not chaos and confusion.”

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Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.