Bay Area airports anticipate pre-pandemic levels of travel amid the holiday season

Friday saw the first day of what many air passengers dislike, but have missed these past many months: The lines, the lugging, luggage, and the potential delays.

For the first time in nearly two years, it’s the start of the holiday travel season reminiscent of the pre-pandemic.

"I prefer not busy. But I think it’s just going to be busier. Yeah," said airline passenger Melodi Hughes, as she rushed toward her gate at Mineta San Jose International Airport.

Airport officials in San Jose, and at San San Francisco international, said passenger traffic rivals the days before COVID.

"Today is on pace to be our busiest day since the start of the pandemic. We’re probably going to see 50 thousand people going through the checkpoints at SFO," said Doug Yakel, a spokesman for San Francisco International Airport.

In the South Bay, officials say 400,000 flyers will pass through from Nov. 19 to 28.

"Close to our busiest in 2019. Off by about 150,000 passengers. But much more than the 125,000 that we saw during this time last year," said San Jose airport spokeswoman Keonnis Taylor.

Experts said Americans are finally moving out of the national COVID hibernation. Most of the 54 million people will travel by car.  That represents a 3% increase in California over 2019 numbers, according to the Automobile Association of America.

The remainder will be rushing to plane or deplane, fueled by increased demand and vaccination rates.

"People have built-up demand in terms of seeing their family and friends they haven’t seen in two years," said Dr. Jan Jones, program coordinator of Hospitality & Tourism Management at the University of New Haven.

Oakland International Airport officials said their holiday crush comes Wednesday, Nov. 24 thru Sunday, Nov. 28, with passenger volume 80% of normal.

"Airplanes are mostly full. Lines are getting longer at the checkpoints. So things are getting back to normal, as far as I’m concerned," said passenger Frank Walker.

Experts said in the coming days air travelers should be prepared, check the COVID protocols for their airline, the airport they’re departing from, and their destination. And have a back-up plan, just in case there’s a last minute change or problem.

It’s travel planning with the added twist of COVID slowly moving farther out of view, as Californians and the rest of the country take flight toward the way things used to be.