Holiday travel is so stressful that an entire genre of Hollywood entertainment is devoted to home-for-the-holidays disasters. If you didn't think it could get worse than mile-long TSA lines, blizzard delays at O'Hare, and screaming babies in the next row, well, meet 2020. Should you be searching for a flight deal this year or not?
Whether or not it's a good idea to share a table with East Coast cousins...that's a separate issue. When it comes to the actual travel part, it's not particularly clear. AAA estimated that 115.6 million Americans—that's 35 percent of the population—took a trip over the holidays last year; that included almost seven million flying, the highest since 2003. You don't need to hold an MD in epidemiology to know that kind of cross-country movement isn't great during a pandemic. The CDC is going full Bartleby the Scrivener with official travel policy that boils down to 'We prefer you not to.'
First off, the rules: Leaving for a trip from Washington is not technically verboten. King County is still in Phase 2, which allows for essential travel (does housing half a green bean casserole fall into that category?) and movement for allowed activities, like outdoor recreation and limited gatherings. The West Coast has no restrictions on incoming travelers like other states do—New York, for example, requires a 14-day quarantine for visitors from 35 states and territories, though Washington isn't on that list (for now). Rules change constantly; the Evergreen State is no longer exempt in Massachusetts, despite being so a few weeks ago.
Some places, like Hawaii and Alaska, require evidence of a negative, recent Covid test on arrival. But the expected rush for tests in the days before Thanksgiving and Christmas—even though a negative test doesn't guarantee you won't infect grandma—could make timely results hard to come by. International travel is largely still prohibited or discouraged; Canada has recently allowed immediate family members through the border, though those folks must still hole up for two weeks with a box of Timbits and a jug of maple syrup.
NPR notes that airplanes haven't proved to be automatic super-spreaders. Still, a few cases of Covid transmission have been traced to flights, so nothing's definitive. Many airlines have blocked off some seats inside the cabin, but to varying degrees; Delta is taking the lead with no dreaded middle seats through January, and Alaska has committed to some spacing through November 30. American halted the practice midsummer and immediately got blowback online. But cavernous, empty airports may only be a memory the day before Thanksgiving.
And if the only thing holding you back is your bank balance, well, prices aren't excessive yet; today you can score a turkey weekend round-trip to Cleveland for less than $400. Many airlines have waived change fees, so you can always change your mind and use the tickets for a beach vacation next summer. Bottom line: You're allowed to book travel for the holidays, but with an election and seven weeks of coronavirus chaos still to go before Thanksgiving, this wouldn't be a bad year to spool up Planes, Trains, and Automobiles instead of actually taking off.