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Busy Thanksgiving travel weekend at ROC airport highlights dramatic pandemic falloff

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Max Schulte/WXXI News
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A sign with the new name went up at the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport in 2021.

Travel has yet to fully rebound from the depths of the pandemic.

But numbers at the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport this busy Thanksgiving week highlight just how far back that climb has been.

“We had about 1,700 (travelers) go through the checkpoint before like 7 a.m. this morning,” assistant airport director Steve Barz said Wednesday.

That’s more than the airport saw in total the day before Thanksgiving 2020, as the rate of COVID-19 infections climbed and government officials urged people to limit the size of indoor gatherings.

This is the airport’s busiest week of the year – so far – with 5,200 departing passengers recorded or expected on Tuesday and Wednesday. For perspective, the two days leading up to Thanksgiving 2020 saw about 1,500 and 1,600 departing passengers, respectively.

This year's totals are up about 30% over what airport officials are seeing on a typical day. Same for the number of arrivals.

“Sunday is another one where we will have over 5,000 departing, and 5,000 coming back,” Barz said.

That has meant backups both inside and outside the airport. But Barz estimated the early-morning peak wait time at 15 to 20 minutes to clear security.

Thanksgiving Day should be quieter, with significantly fewer flights.

Air and automobile travel are expected to be up nationwide. But the biggest jump will be in buses, trains and cruises, according to AAA. The agency expects more than 3.5 million New Yorkers will hit the road, rails or air over the five-day holiday weekend, surpassing pre-pandemic totals from 2019.

Brian Sharp is WXXI's business and development reporter. He has been covering Rochester since 2005, working most of that time as an investigative reporter with the Democrat and Chronicle. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.