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As the number of people traveling by plane climbs, so do reports of travelers refusing to follow instructions, or even turning violent

(CNN) — Travel this long holiday weekend will be busy — and not only by pandemic standards.

Experts expect it will rival the busiest Independence Day weekend of the pre-coronavirus era. Lines at airports and jams on the highways will be back with a vengeance, they say.

AAA forecasts a record number of Americans are taking to the increasingly busy roads this weekend, and warns they will encounter the most expensive July 4 gas in seven years. America’s airports haven’t been this busy in more than a year, and some airlines are struggling to keep up with the demand.

With crowds at the airports and cars on the highways, this weekend is expected to look similar to the times before the pandemic rocked the industry.

But reminders of the pandemic remain: Face masks are still required for all passengers — even vaccinated ones — on all public forms of transportation, including airplanes, trains and buses, and in hubs like rail stations and airports. Restrictions prevent or complicate international travel to many countries. Cruises are just restarting with some onboard changes. And while airlines are back to selling middle seats, many have not yet returned full alcohol service.

“Even our regular fliers are sort of first-time fliers at this point,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, told CNN.

Road trips are more popular than ever

The 47.7 million Americans that AAA forecasts will travel more than 50 miles between Thursday and Monday rivals the record-setting 2019 figure of 48.9 million.

The number of vacationers packing the car for a road trip, AAA expects, will be the largest ever: 43.6 million.

That means roads in vacation hot spots will see an even larger influx of traffic.

The transportation data firm Inrix says many cities — from New York to Los Angeles — are experiencing less traffic than usual this time of year, as many workers continue to sign in from home. Washington, D.C. traffic is 13 percentage points below usual, and San Francisco is down 21 percentage points. Both numbers are still higher than this time in 2020, when only 34.2 million people hit the road, AAA said.

But the story is different in the nation’s tourist hubs. Nine cities in Florida — including Tampa and Orlando — are seeing more traffic than usual.

Rental car companies parked their cars last year and sold off some inventory, creating a shortage as demand picks up.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

“This is going to be a robust travel season,” said AAA spokesman Andrew Gross.

Among the factors causing families to take road trips, Gross said, is protecting unvaccinated children from crowded planes or trains, and high demand for rental cars in places they might have looked at for flights. Rental car companies that downsized fleets when demand dropped during the pandemic are now short on supply. That has driven a spike in rental prices — when there are cars to be had.

Gas prices are also climbing, and the national average of $ 3.12 on Thursday is the most expensive since reaching $ 3.66 in 2014. Prices at the pump reflect not only the demand for fuel, but the challenge to get it delivered to gas stations around the country. Some stations may run out, AAA says.

“It’s not that we have a gas supply issue in this country,” Gross said. “There just are not enough gas tank drivers available, because during the pandemic, there weren’t a lot of deliveries, so these drivers — highly in demand — they went off and found other jobs.”

The unruly skies

Air travel at some vacation hot spots — such as Nashville and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina — is already exceeding pre-pandemic levels, the Transportation Security Administration said Thursday. Officials launched a campaign to hire 6,000 workers, and the agency said it will continue staffing up through Labor Day.

July 4 travel kicked off with one of the busiest days at airports in 16 months.

The TSA reported screening 2,147,090 passengers on Thursday. That number fell just short of the record-setting 2.17 million screened last Sunday. TSA said it expects that record “to be outpaced over the holiday weekend.”

As passenger numbers climb, so do reports of passengers refusing to follow crew instructions, or even turning violent.

The Federal Aviation Administration has received more than 3,200 reports of unruly passengers this year, and opened 491 investigations. On average over the last 15 years, FAA has opened about 180 investigations annually, and officials say the number of reports filed was never large enough to warrant tallying.

“Now the public is coming back and getting out and treating flight attendants as punching bags, and they’re doing that verbally and physically,” said Nelson of the flight attendant union.

“Conflict is rising very quickly,” she added. “Everyone’s at a stress level 10. Everyone needs a little help right now and we’re asking everyone be a helper.”

Airlines that faced an uncertain future last summer are seeing passengers return in droves. United Airlines told CNN that even with business and international travel depressed, Thursday is the busiest travel day it has seen since the pandemic began.

“Leisure demand is more than 100%,” United CEO Scott Kirby told CNN. “The recovery indicates the huge desire for people to get back to living life.”

Air travel has been on the rise heading into the busy summer season.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Packed planes

Planes are nearly full. Ultra-low-cost carriers, which specialize in shuttling people to vacation destinations, expect to see “load factors in the 90s,” said Chris Brown, a vice president at the National Air Carriers Association.

Airlines for America, representing the largest US airlines, said flights were 89% full last week — compared to 90% in the same week of 2019.

Some of the return is driven by passengers using flight credits from trips canceled during the pandemic.

Southwest Airlines and American Airlines said their schedules and staffing have been thrown off by the growing demand and weather. Data from the aviation website FlightAware show Southwest canceled or delayed 39,728 flights last month — the most of any US airline. The data showed American canceled or delayed 36,714 flights.

Southwest has pleaded with flight attendants to pick up extra trips and offered twice the usual pay. It said in a memo obtained by CNN that “adverse weather conditions” have put crews out of position for the next flight, and it said fewer flights between cities has made it harder to reposition crew members.

“If you are healthy and it is safe to do so, please help your fellow Cohearts by picking up available shifts,” wrote Southwest executive vice president Alan Kasher.

American said it would preemptively trim 1% of flights from its schedule through mid-July, citing bad weather and staffing shortages. The advance changes mean “impacting the fewest number of customers” and rebooking them.

Travelers taking the train instead will see more service from Amtrak. It recently began running more trains up and down the East coast and restored pre-pandemic service to dining on long distance routes in the West.

No matter how travelers head out, they should pack their patience, experts say.

“You’re going to have a lot of company on the road and in the skies and around you at all times,” said Gross, of AAA. “So just expect it won’t always be the smoothest, but you’re going to get there and you’re going to have fun.”

Author: By Gregory Wallace and Pete Muntean, CNN
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Man hit with 'less lethal' rounds in southeast Austin after refusing to exit stolen truck, police say

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A man was taken to the hospital after police fired “less lethal” rounds after he refused to get out of a stolen pickup truck southeast Austin, police said Tuesday afternoon.

The Austin Police Department said officers found a stolen white pickup truck at the intersection of Elmont Drive and Town Lake Circle around 1:40 p.m. That’s near South Pleasant Valley Road, the Waterloo East Apartments and MESH dog park.

The driver refused to leave the truck, according to police, and appeared to be intoxicated with an “unknown substance.”

After multiple attempts to bring the suspect out peacefully, he was then considered a barricaded person, triggering a SWAT callout.

SWAT and negotiators tried to draw the suspect out, but he still refused.

Police said SWAT breached a window of the truck to bring the driver out. Video sent in by viewers to KXAN show SWAT team members using some type of gas.

The driver then exited but still refused to comply with commands from officers, according to APD. That’s when he was hit with “less lethal” rounds, police said.

The suspect, who APD described as a white man around 30 years old, was taken to the hospital. APD did not have an update on his condition Tuesday afternoon.

He most likely faces an unauthorized use of motor vehicle charge, a felony. Additional charges are possible, APD said.

“The cops were yelling at him to put his hands up, get out of the car. They kept yelling, ‘put his hands up. Show you are not holding anything.’ He would only raise one other hand; his other hand stayed inside the car,” said Laura McCarty, who lives nearby and saw the confrontation from down the street.

KXAN asked APD about its policy regarding “less lethal” ammunition, which was being reevaluated for crowd control situations following protests last summer. APD told KXAN on Tuesday it couldn’t comment on SWAT tactics, but this use of “less lethal” shots was “within policy.”

Author: Jaclyn Ramkissoon
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin

Tensions boil at UT-Austin where students are refusing to work

“A targeted incident”

“A rebuke of their spinelessness”

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Author: Kate McGee
This post originally appeared on The Texas Tribune: Main Feed

MMA sensation Mokaev – touted as ‘the new Khabib’ – calls out UK government for ‘refusing wife’s visa’

Team GB athlete Muhammad Mokaev has sarcastically thanked the UK government for “refusing his wife’s visa” as he issued a scathing message on social media.

Taking to Twitter on Friday afternoon, the grappler wrote: “Thanks for refusing my wife’s visa, after representing [the] UK for 9 years.”

The message was accompanied with a clapping hands emoji, while the UK Home Office and its boss Priti Patel were also tagged.

Turning 20 last summer, Mokaev arrived in the UK as a 12-year-old refugee. 

In a revealing interview with the BBC, he told the story of his journey to the country, and how he eventually settled in the Wigan area of northwestern England while now based in Salford, Greater Manchester. 

With his mother having recently passed away at the time, Mokaev and his father arrived by ferry hidden inside a car without any money and a bag of clothes.

As Mokaev originally hails from the Russian republic of Dagestan, there have been obvious comparisons to lightweight great Khabib Nurmagomedov and they also share similar fighting styles.

But although Mokaev tried it briefly while still in their shared homeland, which boasts an endless production line of talent in grappling, it was only when introduced properly to wrestling at the Wigan Youth Zone that he took to it.

As the pair scraped by on benefits, Mokaev’s father was concerned at seeing Muhammad fall in with “the wrong crowd” and bribed the youngster £20 to go to the after school club every day.

The move paid dividends, and with Mokaev now a rising 5-0 MMA star who hopes to top Jon Jones as the UFC’s youngest champion, he is an established Team GB athlete as well with eyes on the Olympics.

Yet representing his adopted country has proved no help whatsoever in having his wife join him in the UK, and fans have rushed to offer their support. 

“This is awful from you guys,” said one, also tagging Patel and the Home Office. 

“Wherever this guy goes [around] the globe to compete, whatever platform it may be, he’s always taking the flag with him & you guys can’t even accept his wife’s Visa, shame on you!”

“It’s a ruse. They do that sometimes hoping that the person gives up. Appeal instead and it normally works. Trust me,” suggested another.

“[It’s the] second time they’ve refused it , with no rights to appeal,” answered Mokaev, with a sad smiley.

“Take your talents and your family somewhere you’ll all be respected and appreciated. The UK is a dumpster fire of bigotry and hostility,” it was advised elsewhere.

Despite the disappointment, Mokaev said he would “never stop raising the flag of England” as he continued his rise in the world of MMA. 

“I manage to accomplish many goals I’ve set for myself since arriving at the UK,” he wrote. 

“This country has helped me though my journey in life and in MMA. Therefore, no matter what the Home Office decides against me or my family, I will never stop raising the flag of England.”

Also on rt.com ‘Brother, please stay in boxing’: Rising MMA star Muhammad Mokaev TAPS OUT boxer Amir Khan in training footage (VIDEO)


This article originally appeared on RT Sport News

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White Republicans are refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine

Sam Webb says he’s not against vaccines. His kids are up to date on their vaccines for school, and he got a flu shot a few years ago, the Weatherford truck driver said.

But he won’t be getting a COVID-19 shot.

Webb, a former Army medic, is among the thousands of Republicans in Texas and across the country who say they do not trust COVID-19 vaccines and will refuse to get one — even as public health experts and elected leaders say mass vaccinations are the key to a return to normalcy from the pandemic that has plagued the nation for a year.

At the beginning of the nation’s vaccine rollout, experts warned that people of color, particularly Black and brown people, could be skeptical or fearful about getting vaccinated. But over the past few months, white Republicans have emerged as the demographic group that’s proven most consistently hesitant about COVID-19 vaccines.

In Texas, 61% of white Republicans[2], and 59% of all Republicans regardless of race, either said they are reluctant to get the vaccine or would refuse it outright, according to the February University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll[3]. That’s not an insignificant portion of the state’s population — over 52% of the state’s ballots in November were cast for former President Donald Trump.

Only 25% of Texas Democrats[4] said they were hesitant or would refuse to get a COVID-19 shot, according to the poll.

Scientists and doctors stress that vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing the worst outcomes of COVID-19, including hospitalizations and deaths[5]. No one has died because of the vaccines, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Some people may experience short-term side effects, but those effects quickly subside[6].

But the trend among Republicans is nationwide. A Civiqs poll[7] updated in March indicated that white Republicans make up the largest demographic of people in the U.S. who remain vaccine hesitant with 53% saying they were either unsure about or not getting the vaccine.

Meanwhile, people of color have shown increased confidence in the vaccine over the past few months. In October 2020, 53% of Black Texans said they would not get a COVID-19 vaccine[8] — a percentage that dropped to 29% when asked last month[9], according to UT/Texas Tribune polls. By comparison, 43% of Texas Republicans said they would not get the vaccine in October, compared with 41% last month.

Most hesitancy among Republicans stems from a distrust of scientists and an unfounded concern about how new the vaccine is, said Timothy Callaghan, an assistant professor of health policy management at the Texas A&M School of Public Health.

“What you do find is that over time conservatives have been more vaccine hesitant than liberals, which you can largely attribute to higher levels of distrust in the scientific establishment among conservatives,” Callaghan said. “However, the actions of certain political actors over the past few years have sort of intensified those beliefs within the party.”

For Webb, he said he thinks it’s more about Republicans being distrustful of the government, “and this has been pushed really hard by governmental authorities.”

“I’m not against vaccines,” Webb said. “I’m against something that was rushed out so quickly.”

Scientists and medical experts say no corners were cut for the COVID-19 vaccines. Built on years of research of coronaviruses, combined with global collaboration and large infusions of funding, COVID-19 vaccines were able to be developed quickly. Each of the three vaccines approved so far in the U.S. underwent clinical trials meticulously reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration.

“It wasn’t just this brand new thing,” said Dr. Philip Huang, Dallas County’s health and human services director. “It was built on prior research and development, but it is a great tremendous scientific breakthrough.”

Compromising herd immunity

Andrea Norman Harmon, a Springtown resident, said she distrusts the vaccine and is relying on her Christian faith.

“I haven’t even done any research on it, because in my mind, there’s no way that you can 100% convince me that you can tell me what the effects are five years down the road if I take this vaccine today,” said Harmon, a conservative. Research[10] shows strong evidence that mRNA vaccines like the COVID-19 vaccines will not cause long-term harm.

Harmon said she does not trust government officials, regardless of party. She’ll only get her high school-aged son vaccinated for COVID-19 if it is required for school, although her children are vaccinated for other diseases, she said.

“If it’s voluntary, and it stays voluntary, I will never take the vaccine,” she said. “If it comes down to — I have to take it in order to keep my job — I will be in heavy prayer over what I need to do.“

That pervasive distrust across such a broad demographic is particularly concerning for public health experts with the goal of reaching herd immunity.

“Anytime there are pockets or segments of the population that don’t get vaccinated, it creates pockets of vulnerability,” Huang said. “We want everyone to take this public health measure.”

Epidemiologists estimate to reach herd immunity, between 70% and 90% of the population needs to be vaccinated. Because the vaccines aren’t approved for people under 16, that means virtually all adults in Texas.

“It’s not only Texas, but we look at some other states where a large proportion of them are Republicans,” said Jamboor K. Vishwanatha, founding director of Texas Center for Health Disparities. “It’s a brutal fact — I mean it’s going to affect all, because we will not be able to reach herd immunity. And with all of these new variants that may be coming, COVID may be with us for the long haul.”

“COVID doesn’t discriminate between political affiliation,” Vishwanatha added. “[But] unfortunately, it got politicized from the beginning.”

Political rhetoric

Elected leaders like former President Donald Trump have at times downplayed the severity of the virus while denigrating scientists who urged for increased caution. Trump, who received the vaccine, did so off camera and did not make a strong public push for Americans to get vaccinated.

Tasha Philpot, a University of Texas at Austin political science professor, said Republican Gov. Greg Abbott[11]’s messaging has been tepid in its encouragement of Texans getting vaccinated. Abbott received his first dose live on TV, but he also stresses in his public statements that the vaccines are “always voluntary[12],” a nod to members of his party who reject the vaccine.

Philpot said Abbott’s decision to end most of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions earlier this month also sent a message to his party: The pandemic is over.

“It’s a signaling game,” she said. “I think if the signal had come from a credible source in their eyes, that we would be having a completely different discussion going on right now.”

Abbott did not respond to request for comment.

Many Republican officials are attempting to simultaneously appeal to two different crowds — with the Republican party nearly split down the middle on attitudes toward COVID-19 vaccines, she said.

“The last thing they want to do is upset their base,” said Callaghan, the health policy management professor at Texas A&M. “If Abbott came out, full-throated, saying everyone really needs to do this so we can put the pandemic into decline and get back to normal and get Texas back to the way it should be — that might send a different signal to get more Republicans to vaccinate.”

Dallas GOP chairperson Rodney Anderson stressed that the Republican Party isn’t a monolith — there are many who want the vaccine and there are a variety of reasons some might not want it. However, Anderson declined to share his personal views on the vaccine.

Anderson said most of his fellow party members that he’s talked to cite concerns that the vaccine was quickly developed. He said he thinks those who believe in conspiracy theories surrounding the vaccines or virus are in the minority.

But Anderson said GOP leaders like Abbott and others have done an admirable job encouraging Texans of all political leanings to be vaccinated.

“The communication at the state level between the governor, lieutenant governor of encouraging individuals [to] ‘get vaccinated, get vaccinated, get vaccinated,’ has been appropriate and has been effective,” he said.

Vaccine acceptance in communities of color

When the vaccine first began rolling out, headlines and polls emerged indicating that people of color, especially Black and Hispanic people, were more hesitant about getting vaccinated than other demographics.

However, over time those numbers have changed. According to the UT/Texas Tribune polls, Black Texans’ hesitancy dropped by 24 percentage points from November to February.

Among Hispanic Texans, attitudes toward the vaccine diverge based on political affiliation. About half of Hispanic Republicans said they were either against or unsure about getting a vaccine, compared with 34% of Hispanic Democrats who said the same.

Still, a higher percentage of Hispanic Republicans in Texas who were polled said they would get vaccinated than white Republicans.

The UT/TT Poll did not receive a large enough sample of Black Republican respondents to derive meaningful results.

“Some initial surveys indicated that there was vaccine hesitancy among people of color, but recent polls are showing that sentiment has largely decreased,” Vishwanatha with the Texas Center for Health Disparities said, saying the problem is more about access.

The sentiment that Black and Hispanic people are less likely to want the vaccine is dangerous, Vishwanatha said, because of the disparities that persist. Black and Hispanic Texans already face disproportionately higher rates of dying or being hospitalized after being infected with COVID-19. And according to state data, they are being vaccinated at rates much lower than white people.[13]

“By kind of pushing this narrative that ‘Black people don’t want the vaccine anyway’ — it’s kind of blurring over the fact that there’s this racial divide in terms of the dissemination of the vaccine and who gets who’s actually getting access to it,” Philpot said.

Also notable is the difference in the root cause of why people of color are hesitant to get vaccinated compared to white Republicans.

“The huge difference between those two groups is this unique mistreatment of the Black community by the medical establishment, both historically and in modern times, that gives them additional pause about participating in a new vaccination program,” Callaghan said. “And that’s simply just not a reason why Republicans are hesitant to vaccinate against COVID-19.”

Disclosure: University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here[14].

Reese Oxner