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Air, road travel on the rise in East Tennessee

At McGhee Tyson Airport, roughly half of pre-pandemic passengers have returned. Experts are also predicting a busy road trip season.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Travel is picking up at McGhee Tyson Airport.

"We are starting to see more and more people feel more comfortable, especially after vaccinations, to begin traveling," airport spokeswoman Becky Huckaby said. "We're seeing a higher level of leisure travelers in the terminal, whereas business and international travel is still very low at this point."

Huckaby said the airport is currently welcoming about half as many passengers as it did pre-pandemic. Even so, that's a huge improvement from April 2020, when passenger traffic was down to about 4 percent.

"It was essential travel only. Everyone was at home or in lockdown somewhere," Huckaby said. "We're looking at it from the perspective of what was it like in 2018 and we're about halfway there."

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The flight schedule reflects the new demand, with Allegiant Airlines adding routes it had planned to launch before COVID-19.

"We're seeing new flights to Austin and Chicago and to Myrtle Beach," Huckaby said. "The airport is cleared for takeoff, and we like to say it's cleaned for takeoff."

For those who aren't ready to take flight, travel experts are predicting a road trip rebound.

"It's expected that there will be a lot of domestic road trips," AAA spokeswoman Megan Cooper said. "We have that pent-up demand where people haven't traveled very much in the last year."

Tennessee is home to some top road trip destinations like Nashville and Pigeon Forge. The increase in travelers could be reflected in gas prices, but that's normal.

"We're seeing some of those travel restrictions ease in our state and across the country," Cooper said. "Once we move closer to Memorial Day weekend, we can expect to see an increase in gasoline demand."

AAA will release its annual Memorial Day travel forecast on Tuesday.