BOONE COUNTY - The last time Jimmy Pearson saw his family, nobody knew what COVID-19 was. This year, he's flying from Columbia Regional Airport (COU) to Dallas to see them.

"I can't imagine not being able to see my family," Pearson said. "I haven't seen [my 2-year-old nephew] in two years. So I get to go see him for the first time."

Roughly 89% of American's plan to travel this Thanksgiving this holiday season, according Scott's cheap flights. Last year, that number was only 33%. That same study also found that only 11% of American's aren't traveling because of COVID-19 this Thanksgiving.

Pearson is immunocompromised and noted that while COVID isn't a huge issue personally, he's been weary of violence in the sky.

"I'm not really concerned," Pearson said. "But everybody else, the way they act and stuff, it's just it's been a big mess."

COU manager Michael Parks said the airport is expecting an increase in travelers, with numbers similar to pre-COVID holiday travel.

"We had about 7,600 passengers flying out of Columbia last October [2021]," Parks said. "It was about 4,200 last October [2020]. So over 3,000 enplanements more."

Increased travel inevitably means longer lines. This weekend, TSA screened over 4.2 million passengers nationwide. An estimated 53.4 million will travel throughout the holiday season, according to AAA.

Parks said those planning to fly should follow advice he gives during any busy travel season.

"Make sure that you show up extra early for your flights," Parks said. "You also have to look at the weather forecast."

Columbia College student Chyna Grays missed her early afternoon flight out of COU Monday. She said last year, there were hardly any other passengers when traveling.

"And there was literally no one," Grays said. "It was kind of like ghost town on the airplanes."

Grays said she's excited to get together with old colleagues separated by the pandemic.

"But I think [COVID] made me appreciate life more," Grays said. "I think I'll probably try to make some new friends and meet up with some people I haven't seen in forever."

And for Pearson, the first thing he plans to do when he lands, it to embrace his mom.

"I'm going to give her a big hug and kiss," Pearson said. "And tell her that I love her."

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