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Thanksgiving Travelers Fly Into Kansas City Amid Coronavirus Warnings

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Julia Breidenthal, left, reaches for her mom, Joni, while being bear hugged by her sister Laney at Kansas City International Airport on Wednesday evening. Julia had flown from the Coast Guard Academy and was greeting by the cheering mom and sister inside a less-than-bustling Thanksgiving eve inside Terminal B.

Even with advice not to travel this season, hugs and tears flowed inside Kansas City International Airport as family and friends reunited for the holidays.

Joni Breidenthal was waiting in the Terminal B concourse with her daughter Laney. Waiving a “welcome home” sign, the mother and sister welcomed Laney’s sister Julia, who attends the Coast Guard Academy, with a group hug complete with tears and laughter.

Still, the airport was noticeably quiet before the younger Breidenthal’s arrival.

“To me, it’s a ghost town,” Joni Breidenthal noted, looking around the concourse while she waited for her daughter’s arrival.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Eva Welsh lifts her friend Jenna Poppen in a welcoming hug Wednesday evening in Terminal B at Kansas City International Airport after Welsh arrived from Wyoming where she attends college. Welsh said she was surprised how light the crowds were at the Denver airport and said she didn't encounter any of the usual holiday travel problems.

Following a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases, the Centers for Disease Control warned against holiday travel. Still, Kansas City International airport saw an increase in passenger traffic Wednesday, even though it was lower than usual for Thanksgiving.

The Kansas City Aviation Department estimated that nearly 180,000 passengers would travel in and out of Kansas City International Airport during the 12-day Thanksgiving season — a 55 percent decrease from 2019. However, Wednesday marked the first time Kansas City International had seen more than 200 flights since March.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Travelers move through Terminal B at Kanasas City International Airport on Wednesday evening. Typically one of the busiest travel days of the year, the airport reported a 55 percent reduction in air travel for the day before Thanksgiving.

Airport spokesman Joe McBride said the airport is abundantly aware of the CDC advice and prepared with safety protocols, signage and messaging for travelers.

“There’s a lot of different measures in place, so it’s a team effort of us and the aeronautical business and the travelers doing our part,” he said. “But also, you as a traveler, you need to be smart and do the things we know what we’re supposed to do here to be safe.”

But people will travel no matter what and the airport can’t close its doors, McBride added. “So, we’re in the ‘If you wish to travel, we’re ready for you’ mode.”

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Overland Park resident Darien Lame fills out a luggage tag for his golf clubs inside Terminal B at Kanas City International Airport on Wednesday evening. He said he was headed to Tampa for the holidays to play some golf with a friend and then go see the Kansas City Chiefs play Tampa Bay.

Still, the pandemic and load restrictions from the various airlines are taking their toll on what is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year.

Kris Roberts, an above-the-wing supervisor for Southwest Airlines at KCI, said the airport is busier than it has been recently but not like it would normally be for the day before Thanksgiving.

“Normally, it would be chaotic right now,” he said. “It’s just busy.” He described the activity at the airport Wednesday as “steady but not overwhelming.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Independence resident Brian Williamson retrieves his luggage inside Terminal B at Kansas City International Airport on Wednesday evening. Williamson returned from San Diego after a short personal visit saying he was shocked how easy it was to travel because of the reduced passenger traffic.

Independence resident Brian Williamson arrived at Terminal B from San Diego through Denver. He said this was the first time he has traveled in the pandemic.

“Man, it’s surprising to see,” he said. “There’s nobody at the airport. I mean nobody.”

Williamson explained how easy it is to travel now, noting how he used to arrive at an airport an hour or two ahead of time.

“Even this morning in San Diego,” Williamson observed. “I was dropped off (and) inside within four minutes. My bag was checked, and in another five minutes, I was through security.”

“It’s crazy.”

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