COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Columbia Metropolitan Airport (CAE) and cities along the coast are preparing for an increase in travel this weekend as COVID-19 restrictions begin to loosen.
More and more people are buying plane tickets and lining up at TSA. Officials with TSA and CAE said they are seeing higher than projected numbers, especially when it comes to leisure travel. They are expecting an increase of travelers this Memorial Day Weekend.
"You have a lot of leisure travelers right now that are taking advantage of those fares and really trying to shake out that cabin fever over the last 14 months," TSA Regional Spokesperson Mark Howell said.
Seats on flights are filling back up as more and more people are packing their bags to travel again.
"Last year we saw our record lows," Howell said.
Howell said the pandemic put a stop to many travel plans.
"The year before that, 2019 we saw record highs, so it dropped off dramatically during the pandemic last year," Howell said. "Things are starting to pick back up, and to talk numbers, in 2019 we were screening on average upwards of 2.5 million passengers a day in the summer of 2019. This summer we’re expecting to be in the two million range.”
Howell said CAE's TSA sees an average of about 1,000 people a day, but for Memorial Day Weekend they expect to see 1,200 to 1,500.
"If you are traveling out of CAE give yourself two hours ahead of your scheduled departure time to get through ticketing and security process," Howell said.
If you’re not flying this year, the beach is also expecting high numbers of visitors. Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said they are excited and prepared.
"We have about 320 additional officers from other agencies coming in to help, we have a traffic diversion plan in place if needed, so we’re just ready to welcome people back to the beach," Bethune said.
Bethune said to pack more than just a bathing suit.
"We encourage people to still bring a mask because even though the CDC has released their guidelines we still have some businesses that feel more comfortable having some restrictions in place," Bethune said. "And pack your patience. We are very, very short staffed, so just be patient with our restaurants, with our hotels and with our amusement.”
As far as COVID-19 concerns, State Epidemiologist Dr. Linda Bell said she hopes people remember the virus is still out there.
"In the past we have seen cases increase after holidays and when gatherings have increased, but now with the availability of the highly effective COVID-19 vaccines, we hope people will avail themselves of the vaccine to decrease the risk of transmitting COVID-19 to others," Bell said.
Masks are still required for those traveling via plane, from the moment you enter the airport through to your final destination.