Bay Area air travel up as health experts concerned about virus spread

Widespread vaccination is fueling a surge in travel, with the TSA reporting record airport numbers over the past weekend.

More than 1.5 million people passed through security checkpoints on Sunday, and for almost two weeks, the number has hovered over 1 million daily.

"I was the busiest last week as I've been in 52 weeks," said David Petlin, owner of Flair Travel in Oakland. "I had a client who just got vaccinated and cleared to travel and said 'where can I go in 6 days?' and now he's out of the country."  

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to advise against non-essential travel.

The combination of spring break, widespread re-openings, and pent-up demand have experts alarmed.

"We must find the fortitude to hang in there for just a little bit longer," said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky at a Monday briefing. "We are at a critical point in this pandemic - a fork in the road - where we as a country must decide which path we are going to take."

Health officials are worried about COVID-19 variants fueling a third wave. 

"If we don't take the right actions now, we will have another avoidable surge just as we are seeing in Europe right now," said Dr. Walensky.

San Francisco International Airport also set a pandemic-era record on Friday: 21,500 people through TSA checkpoints.

Sunday was close, 21,000 counted.

The previous high was 20,000 last summer.

Normal for SFO pre-pandemic: 75,000 daily.

"Our flight coming home was almost full," said Joe Mock of Plymouth, CA, picking up his bags at SFO after a vacation in Maui.

"We've been vaccinated, we did all the precautions, and we feel very comfortable, we're glad we went on the trip."

Added his wife Ann, "it was really worth going to see the whales, they were fabulous." 

Travel advisors say interest has rebounded as more people are vaccinated.

Many are making plans for May and beyond, after hearing President Biden say America would have enough vaccine for everyone by then.

"My phone started ringing the next day because people were ready to start traveling this summer," said Petlin.

"Travel is in our soul, it's in our nature, connecting us to each other and other cultures, so people really need to get out there."

Many travelers say life won't wait.

"We understand the risks and that's why we got the vaccine," said Julie Hill, arriving at SFO from Idaho to help her daughter plan her wedding. ,

"We're pretty comfortable now, flying."

For many people, waiting for herd immunity is a wait too long.

"I don't think they're going to sit on the couch," said Petlin, who isn't actively advertising travel, but assisting people who reach out.

The client he sent out of the country?

"Sent me a message they were the happiest they've been in 25 years after being trapped inside for a year."