There are ways to reduce the risk of COVID-19 if you get on a plane this vacation season.
In 2019, about 115 million Americans traveled during the vacations. That number is expected to drop dramatically this year.
But some people continue to travel, even planning to fly home for the vacations.
We talked to the experts about what you need to know to travel this vacation season.
All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some of the information may be outdated. Visit our Coronavirus Center and follow our real-time updates page for the latest information on the COVID-19 flash.
Vacations are usually the most traveled time of the year. According to the WHO, 115.6 million Americans are expected to travel for the 2019 vacation season.
But amid the threat of COVID-19, reservations on major U.S. airlines for this Thanksgiving vacation fell by as much as 89 percent, according to a study released in late September by OAG, a travel data company.
Airlines are stepping up security measures to try to convince passengers, many of whom have not seen their families all year, that flights are safe.
This is what you can expect from this year's vacation travel, as well as expert advice on how to spend your vacations more safely.
Safer Flight Protocols
Without many health and safety mandates from the federal government, each airline develops its own strategies to help protect passengers from coronavirus infection.
You should plan to wear a mask if you're traveling on a vacation plane. This requirement applies to boarding and flying on all major airlines.
Social distance on flights varies from airline to airline and you may want to think carefully about who you are flying with.
Early studies by MIT's Sloan School of Management show that a traveler has a 1 in 4300 chance of getting a SARS-CoV-2 contract for full flights, compared to a 1 in 7700 chance when the middle seats are blocked.
Delta Airlines is the only major airline that has promised to keep middle seats available during the winter break.
Middle seats will remain blocked until November 30 in the Southwest and October 31 in Alaska (with some exceptions), while JetBlue has promised to sell less than 70 percent of its seats on flights through December 1.
However, according to Travel + Leisure, United and American Airlines have allowed up to 70 percent of seats on flights to be reserved.
The COVID-19 tests are being conducted slowly before selected flights, mainly on international long-haul routes or on travel between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii.
So far, implementation of COVID-19 has been extremely limited, and whether testing will be available on more routes by the holidays is still in the air, said Dr. David Nash, an internal medicine physician, honorary dean of Thomas Jeffersonian University's College of Public Health and chief health advisor to the Philadelphia Convention Bureau and Guest Relations Office.
"I hope the trials will be expanded. If we had widespread rapid antigen testing, we would be in a much better position," Nash said.
Should you go on vacation?
Many people wonder if a vacation trip would be safe enough to reunite with their families after spending most of the year apart.
Unfortunately, there is no answer to this question - for each person there will be a full analysis of the risks and benefits, experts say.
Staying home and celebrating with family members is the best way to reduce the risk of infection or transmission of coronavirus, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Reliable Source.
This is especially true if you or a relative are at high risk for a severe case of COVID-19 due to factors such as age or underlying illness.
"Everyone should think consciously about whether they need a trip and whether it's helpful," said Dr. Henry Raymond, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health in New Jersey. "Anything that brings people together in large groups, whether it's a trip or a meeting, is a risk.
If traveling is part of your vacation plans, think about driving, not flying, to limit your potential risk to other travelers, Raymond said.
Reduce the risk of viruses during travel by wearing a mask when around others, packing food, and washing your hands after using the bathroom or pumping gas.
If flying is your only option... Nash said that HEPA air filters on airplanes bring fresh air into the cabin every few minutes, which helps make flying "the safest part of your trip.
"The real problem with flying on an airplane is being reasonable before and after landing," she said. "Wear a mask, wash your hands often, and try not to check your bag because you don't want to wait in a crowd for your luggage.
"If you want to walk another mile, I recommend that you wear a pair of glasses from the hardware store, because the breath drops can get into your eyes," he added.
This week, a study conducted by the Department of Defense in conjunction with United Airlines showed that the risk of in-flight virus transmission is extremely low if people wear masks.
During the study, the dummy was used in conjunction with an aerosol generator to watch the particles move around in the plane.
United Airlines claims that the risk of exposure to COVID-19 on its aircraft is "virtually non-existent," according to new studies, which show that when masks are worn, a passenger's particles only have a .003 percent chance of entering the breathing space of the passenger sitting next to them.
Reducing the risk of holiday events
Trying COVID-19 before seeing your family can give you extra peace of mind.
Obviously, you should isolate and cancel your travel plans if the test result is positive. But a negative test doesn't mean you're okay, Raymond said.
"There is a period of time when your body doesn't produce enough virus to be detected by the tests, but you still have it," he explained. "You can get tested today, but let the virus show up tomorrow.
Instead, focus on making your family meetings as safe as possible. Self-protection before meeting the family outside of your immediate bubble, if that's okay, Nash said.
If you are going to travel, consider staying in a hotel rather than with family members unless each member is at very low risk and has enough space to spread out, said Dr. Andres Henao, an internal medicine physician, infectious disease specialist and director of the UCHealth Travel Clinic on the medical campus of Colorado State University in Anschutz.
And to keep his vacation a secret, Nash said.
Talk to your family about all the details before the celebration, from who will be at the table and where they will meet, to whether they will wear masks or even bring their own individual dishes from home so they don't share.
"Between the cold, pandemic fatigue and the vacations, it will be very difficult to keep up the vigilance," Nash said. "If families make a plan and spend time and energy discussing it, they will feel better.