gathering storm systems were threatening to deliver gusty winds and rain that could interfere with flights, but for the most part, the weather is not expected to cause major disruptions.

“Overall, the news is pretty good in terms of the weather in general across the country cooperating with travel,” said Jon Porter, the chief meteorologist for AccuWeather. “We’re not dealing with any big storms across the country, and in many places the weather will be quite favorable for travel.”

Even so, AAA, the travel services organization, recommended that airline passengers arrive two hours ahead of departure for domestic flights and three hours ahead for international destinations during the Thanksgiving travel wave.

Some lawmakers warned that a Monday vaccination deadline for all federal employees could disrupt T.S.A. staffing at airports, resulting in long lines at security checkpoints, but the agency said those concerns were unfounded.

“The compliance rate is very high, and we do not anticipate any disruptions because of the vaccination requirements,” R. Carter Langston, a T.S.A. spokesman, said in a statement on Friday.

With many people able to do their jobs or classes remotely, some travelers left town early, front-running what are typically the busiest travel days before the holiday.

TripIt, a travel app that organizes itineraries, said 33 percent of holiday travelers booked Thanksgiving flights for last Friday and Saturday, according to its reservation data. (That number was slightly down from last year, when 35 percent of travelers left on the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving, and marginally higher than in 2019, when 30 percent of travelers did so, TripIt said.)

Among those taking advantage of the flexibility was Emilia Lam, 18, a student at New York University who traveled home to Houston on Saturday. She is doing her classes this week remotely, she said, and planned her early getaway to get ahead of the crush. “The flights are going to be way more crowded,” she said, as Thursday approaches.

Robert Chiarito and Maria Jimenez Moya contributed reporting.

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Migrant Crisis in Belarus Tests Putin’s Uneasy Alliance With Lukashenko

MOSCOW — As European governments threatened Belarus with deeper sanctions this week for fomenting the migration crisis on the Belarusian-Polish border, its bombastic leader countered with what sounded like a trump card: he could stop the flow of gas to the West.

There was just one problem: It wasn’t his gas to stop.

So on Friday, Russia — which sends much of its gas to Europe via Belarus — had to set the record straight for the Belarusian president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko.

“Russia was, is and will remain a country that fulfills all of its obligations in supplying European customers with gas,” the spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin told reporters.

With thousands of migrants still stranded in the frigid cold on the edge of the European Union — encouraged by Belarus to go there but barred by Poland, an E.U. member, from crossing its border — the complex relationship between two allied autocrats looms large over the crisis. The mixed messaging over Russia’s natural gas exports was the latest sign that even as Mr. Putin continues to back Mr. Lukashenko, it is the Belarusian leader — a strongman who once ran a Soviet collective farm — who keeps raising the stakes.

the forced landing of a European passenger jet with a Belarusian dissident on board, Mr. Lukashenko seemed to have no choice but to bow to his Kremlin benefactors and to assent to deeper integration with them.

suggested they were ready to “start a conflict.”

several airlines on Friday said they were limiting flights to Belarus from the Middle East, where most of the migrants have traveled from. They include Turkish Airlines, one of the largest carriers to offer flights to Minsk, the Belarusian capital.

At the same time, aid groups described dire conditions for migrants huddled at the border, struggling against the cold and threats of violence. One Iraqi couple and a Syrian man were beaten and robbed, according to the activist coalition Grupa Granica.

The migration crisis comes amid the backdrop of rising tensions between Russia and Belarus’s southern neighbor, Ukraine — a onetime Russian ally that broke away in its pro-Western revolution in 2014. Ukraine’s turn looms large for Moscow, a cautionary tale that the Kremlin is determined not to repeat.

“Putin took Crimea, which is very good, but Putin lost Ukraine,” Mr. Markov, the pro-Kremlin analyst, said. “If he also loses Belarus, he will never be forgiven for it.”

Mr. Lukashenko has ruled Belarus since 1994, and for years profited from the competition between Russia and the West for influence in his country, provoking deep frustration in Moscow. That game ended last year, when he declared a landslide re-election victory in a vote widely seen as fraudulent, leading the E.U. to impose sanctions that continue to rankle him.

With Mr. Lukashenko’s opponents seen as too pro-Western, the Kremlin backed him despite its reservations — saving Mr. Lukashenko’s regime but saddling Mr. Putin with an ever-more-erratic ally.

In Moscow, many expected the Kremlin’s backing to translate into tighter integration into a “union state” between Russia and Belarus that would have magnified Mr. Putin’s geopolitical sway. But those talks ended earlier this fall without an agreement on a common currency or legislature — signaling that Mr. Lukashenko was able to retain his independence.

Mr. Putin and Mr. Lukashenko, both in their late 60s, share a worldview focused on a two-faced, decadent West. Both have overseen harsh crackdowns on dissent in the last year. The 2020 uprising against Mr. Lukashenko in a neighboring, Russian-speaking country spooked the Kremlin, Russian analysts say, and helped prompt Mr. Putin’s decision to dismantle the movement of the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny.

Mr. Lukashenko’s approach toward migration shows how he has sought to maneuver between Russia and the West. In 2018, he boasted that his country’s border guards were significantly reducing the trafficking of migrants and drugs into the European Union. In recent months, he has swerved the other way, with Western officials saying he has orchestrated a wave of migration through the Minsk airport toward his country’s borders, hoping to embarrass the E.U. into legitimizing him.

On the ground in Minsk, the human toll of that strategy is evident.

When large numbers of asylum seekers began arriving over the summer, a rights activist in Minsk said, they came as part of organized tour groups with reservations at the Yubileyny — a hotel complex operated by the presidential administration of the Republic of Belarus.

Now, they are starting to run out of money, Alena Chekhovich, the activist in Minsk, said in a telephone interview, with some forced to sleep on the street. Others relocated to hostels in the city center, even with expired visas — another sign, Ms. Chekhovich claimed, that the Belarusian government, which typically watches closely for migration violations, was exacerbating the crisis.

Ms. Chekhovich said many migrants who make it from Minsk to the border are basically marooned in makeshift camps there, monitored by Belarusian border guards who prevent them from returning.

“It’s sad that people are ending up in this situation simply because of the actions of the state,” she said.

Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting from Moscow, and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.

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Inside United Airlines’ Decision to Mandate Coronavirus Vaccines

Scott Kirby, the chief executive of United Airlines, reached a breaking point while vacationing in Croatia this summer: After receiving word that a 57-year-old United pilot had died after contracting the coronavirus, he felt it was time to require all employees to get vaccinated.

He paced for about half an hour and then called two of his top executives. “We concluded enough is enough,” Mr. Kirby said in an interview on Thursday. “People are dying, and we can do something to stop that with United Airlines.”

The company announced its vaccine mandate days later, kicking off a two-month process that ended last Monday. Mr. Kirby’s team had guessed that no more than 70 percent of the airline’s workers were already vaccinated, and the requirement helped convince most of the rest: Nearly all of United’s 67,000 U.S. employees have been vaccinated, in one of the largest and most successful corporate efforts of the kind during the pandemic.

The key to United’s success, even in states where vaccination rates are at or below the national average, like Texas and Florida, was a gradual effort that started with providing incentives and getting buy-in from employee groups, especially unions, which represent a majority of its workers.

praise from President Biden, who weeks later announced that regulators would require all businesses with 100 or more workers to require vaccinations or conduct weekly virus testing. And the company drew scorn from conservatives.

Other mandates are producing results, too. Tyson Foods, which announced its vaccine requirement just days before United but has provided workers more time to comply, said on Thursday that 91 percent of its 120,000 U.S. employees had been vaccinated. Similar policies for health care workers by California and hospitals have also been effective.

charge its unvaccinated employees an additional $200 per month for health insurance.

United had been laying the groundwork for a vaccine mandate for at least a year. The airline already had experience requiring vaccines. It has mandated a yellow fever vaccination for flight crews based at Dulles International Airport, near Washington, because of a route to Ghana, whose government requires it.

In January, at a virtual meeting, Mr. Kirby told employees that he favored a coronavirus vaccine mandate.

Writing letters to families of the employees who had died from the virus was “the worst thing that I believe I will ever do in my career,” he said at the time, according to a transcript. But while requiring vaccination was “the right thing to do,” United would not be able to act alone, he said.

The union representing flight attendants pushed the company to focus first on access and incentives. It argued that many flight attendants couldn’t get vaccinated because they were not yet eligible in certain states.

Mr. Kirby acknowledged that widespread access would be a precondition. The airline and unions worked together to set up clinics for staff in cities where it has hubs like Houston, Chicago and Newark.

was calling on all employers to do so. A mandate would strike workers as unfair and create unnecessary conflict, the flight attendants’ union argued.

“The more people you get to take action on their own, the more you can focus on reaching the remaining people before any knock-down, drag-out scenario,” said Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents more than 23,000 active workers at United.

In May, the pilots reached an agreement that would give them extra pay for getting vaccinated and the flight attendants worked toward an agreement that would give them extra vacation days. Both incentives declined in value over time and typically expired by early July.

vaccinated by Oct. 25 or within five weeks of a vaccine’s formal approval by the Food and Drug Administration, whichever came first. The timing was intended to ensure that the airline had adequate staffing for holiday travel, said Kate Gebo, who heads human resources.

This time, the unions were more resigned.

“For those 92 percent of pilots who wanted to be vaccinated, we captured $45 million in cash incentives,” said Captain Insler, whose union is challenging the decision to fire employees who don’t comply. “For those who did not want to be vaccinated, we were able to hold off a mandate for several months.”

The success of the incentives — about 80 percent of United’s flight attendants were also vaccinated by the time the airline announced its mandate in August — inspired the company to expand them to all employees, offering a full day’s pay to anyone who provided proof of vaccination by Sept. 20.

The company hadn’t surveyed its workers, but estimated that 60 to 70 percent were already vaccinated. Getting the rest there wouldn’t be easy.

Margaret Applegate, 57, a 29-year United employee who works as a services representative in the United Club at San Francisco International Airport, helps illustrate why.

Ms. Applegate normally does not hesitate to get vaccines, noting that her late father was a doctor and that her daughter does research in nutritional science.

Her daughter urged her to get vaccinated, but she remained deeply ambivalent. Friends and co-workers “were feeding me stories about horrible things happening to people with the vaccine,” she said. She worried about the relatively new technology behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and whether her heart condition could pose complications, though her cardiologist assured her it wouldn’t.

six employees sued United, arguing that its plans to put exempt employees on temporary leave — unpaid in many circumstances — are discriminatory. United has delayed that plan for at least a few weeks as it fights the suit.

Still, United’s vaccination rate has continued to improve. There was another rush before the deadline to receive the pay incentive and one more before the final Sept. 27 deadline. Toward the end of September, the company said 593 people had failed to comply. By Friday, the number had dropped below 240.

“I did not appreciate the intensity of support for a vaccine mandate that existed, because you hear that loud anti-vax voice a lot more than you hear the people that want it,” Mr. Kirby said. “But there are more of them. And they’re just as intense.”

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Airlines See a Surge in Domestic Flights, Beating Forecasts

The aviation recovery is gaining momentum.

A summer travel bonanza is exceeding expectations, helping airlines earn profits again and brightening the outlook for the rest of the year. It’s a welcome relief for a battered industry and a sign that the rebound that began this spring appears to be here to stay.

The economic upturn, aggressive cost-cutting and an enormous federal stimulus that paid many salaries have helped to improve the finances of the largest carriers, which took on vast amounts of debt and lost billions of dollars during the pandemic.

This month, consumer spending on airlines briefly exceeded 2019 levels on a weekly basis for the first time since the pandemic began, according to Facteus, a research firm that monitors millions of online payments. Ticket prices have rebounded, too: In June, fares were down only 1 percent from the same month in 2019, according to the Adobe Digital Economy Index, which is similarly based on website visits and transactions.

And on Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2.2 million travelers at its airport checkpoints, the most in one day since the start of the pandemic.

planned to hire hundreds of flight attendants and bring back thousands who volunteered for extended leaves during the pandemic.

increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour to retain and attract workers, while Delta is in the middle of hiring thousands of employees. United last month announced plans to buy 270 new planes in the coming years, the largest airplane order in its history and one that would create thousands of jobs nationwide.

Southwest on Thursday reported a profit of $348 million for the quarter that ended in June, its second profitable quarter since the pandemic began. American reported a $19 million profit over the same period, while Delta last week reported a $652 million profit, a pandemic first for each airline. United this week reported a loss, but projected a return to profitability in the third quarter as its business improved faster than forecast.

The financial turnaround has been buoyed by an infusion of $54 billion of federal aid to pay employee salaries over the past year and a half. Without those payments, none of the major airlines would have been able to report profits for the quarter that ended in June. The aid precludes the companies from paying dividends through September 2022.

Each airline offered a hopeful outlook for the current quarter. American projected that passenger capacity would be down only 15 to 20 percent from the third quarter of 2019, while United projected a 26 percent decline and Delta forecast a 28 to 30 percent drop. Southwest, which differs from the other three large carriers in that it operates few international flights, said it expected capacity to be comparable to the third quarter of 2019.

“We are just really excited about the momentum we’re seeing in the numbers,” Doug Parker, American’s chief executive, told analysts after the company delivered its earnings report.

The financial results and forecasts for the rest of the summer are the latest sign of strength in a comeback that has been building for months. But the airlines have vast amounts of debt to repay — American, the most indebted carrier, announced a plan on Thursday to pay down $15 billion by the end of 2025 — and the rebound hasn’t been free of setbacks.

recent poll from the Global Business Travel Association, an industry association. If other companies follow Apple’s lead in delaying a return to the office, though, the corporate travel recovery could be held back.

Delta said it expected domestic business trips to recover to about 60 percent of 2019 levels by September, up from 40 percent in June. Those figures roughly align with estimates from United.

“The demand is recovering even faster than we had hoped domestically,” Mr. Kirby of United said on Wednesday.

International travel has slowly started to recover, too, as more countries, particularly in Europe, open up to American travelers who can provide proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test. But airlines are lobbying the Biden administration to loosen restrictions in kind, which, they say, will allow the recovery to accelerate.

“I think the surge is coming, and just as we’ve seen it on the consumer side, we’re getting ready for it on the business side,” Mr. Bastian of Delta said last week. “Once you open businesses, offices, and you get international markets opened, I think it’s going to be a very good run over the next 12 to 24 months.”

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6 Things You Should Know About Traveling to Europe This Summer

By now, most of the large American-run chains have reverted to their pre-Covid cancellation policies for reservations made before a certain date (that has come and gone), and for travel through a certain date (that has come and gone). But some companies are still being flexible: Hilton has always had generous cancellation policies, and Four Seasons has been consistently easy about changes and cancellations during the pandemic.

Travel-industry insiders also have noticed flexibility among independent hoteliers.

“We’ve felt that small, family-run luxury properties are actually more nimble than some of the big hotel chains,” said Louisa Gehring, the owner of Gehring Travel, an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso luxury travel agency. “Rather than lay off all their employees or point to an overarching corporate cancellation policy, they’ve had flexibility to keep the teams on, work with clients on a case-by-case basis and really step up to the plate.”

Policies vary by property, she added, but even some of the more rigid ones now include exceptions for Covid.

One thing to watch for is the credits-versus-refunds flash point: Even in cases when a hotel won’t swallow a deposit or prepayment outright, will you get a cash refund or will you be asked to rebook? Last year, Greece and Italy both passed laws allowing hotels and other travel companies to issue credits, rather than cash refunds, for canceled bookings. Although vaccines, the eagerness to travel and pandemic fatigue may make the idea of a credit less odious than it seemed last spring, always ask about policy specifics, including blackout and expiration dates.

The Palace of Versailles is open and President Emmanuel Macron is sipping espresso outside Parisian cafes, but nightclubs will remain closed even after France’s countrywide curfew ends in June. At restaurants and bars in Madrid, groups are capped at four people inside and six people outside. Germany and the Netherlands remain closed to American tourists.

“Clearly, we will not come back to ‘normal’ straight away, and travelers will have to be conscious of health measures and respect rules at the destination,” said Eduardo Santander, the executive director of the European Travel Commission, a Brussels-based nonprofit that represents the national tourism boards across the continent. “We all — destinations, businesses and guests — cannot let the guard down too soon both for our own health and for the safety of people around.”

In short, any trip to Europe this summer will come down to managing expectations.

“Save the ‘must check all the boxes’ trip to Europe for a bit later, once all new protocol kinks have smoothed out,” Ms. Gehring said. But you may still have an unforgettable experience regardless.

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Belarus Is Isolated as Other Countries Move to Ban Flights

MOSCOW — The tray tables were being raised and the seat backs returned to their upright positions as passengers on Ryanair Flight 4978 prepared for the scheduled landing in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. Then the plane made an abrupt U-turn.

For many passengers, it initially seemed like one of those unexpected delays in airline travel. But after the pilot announced the plane had been diverted to Minsk, the capital of Belarus, one passenger — Roman Protasevich, a prominent Belarusian opposition journalist who had been living in exile since 2019 — grew terrified, certain that he faced arrest.

“He panicked because we were about to land in Minsk,” Marius Rutkauskas, who was sitting one row ahead of Mr. Protasevich, told the Lithuanian broadcaster LRT upon arrival in Vilnius.

Sunday’s ordeal — described by many European officials as an extraordinary, state-sponsored hijacking by Belarus to seize Mr. Protasevich — quickly led to one of the most severe East-West flare-ups in recent years.

report rejecting the idea there were K.G.B. agents on the plane, instead showing three people who said on camera that they had decided to stay in Minsk by their own choosing. They included a Greek man who said he had been traveling to Vilnius on his way to visit his wife in Minsk.

In Lithuania, the police launched an investigation on suspicion of hijacking and kidnapping, and interviewed passengers and crew. They were told that the fighter jet dispatched by Mr. Lukashenko to escort the flight had not forced the Ryanair plane to land, according to people with knowledge of the investigation who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Instead, these people said, the pilot had decided to land the plane in Minsk after Belarusian air traffic control had requested that he do so because of a bomb threat on board.

other confessional videos that critics of Mr. Lukashenko have been forced to record while in jail.

an urgent meeting for Thursday to discuss it.

In recent years, Mr. Lukashenko had profited by playing the interests of Russia and the West off against one another. But amid last summer’s popular uprising against him over his disputed re-election, Mr. Lukashenko threw in his lot with Mr. Putin — and has relied on his support ever since.

Last year, the European Union sanctioned Belarus officials — including Mr. Lukashenko — over human rights abuses, to little apparent effect. The flight bans could have a greater impact, at least on regular people; the summer 2021 timetable of Belavia, Belarus’s national carrier, includes flights to 20 E.U. cities.

And some analysts said the restrictions could require costly rerouting for European airlines, which are already avoiding parts of Ukraine, Belarus’s southern neighbor, because of conflict with Russia.

The flight bans could cause new problems for Mr. Lukashenko inside his country, where the ease of travel to the neighboring European Union had long softened the strictures of living inside an authoritarian state. Ukraine, which is not a member of the E.U., also said it would ban flights to and from Belarus. The growing isolation means that Belarusians will increasingly need to travel east to Russia in order to get out of the country.

Yevgeny Lipkovich, a popular Minsk-based blogger and commentator critical of Mr. Lukashenko, said that his own travels abroad had allowed him to “remain an optimist, despite the regime’s best efforts to force me into depression.”

“If they close down the air loophole, there’s no question that the pressure inside the country will increase,” Mr. Lipkovich said. “And it’s disgusting to live in a pariah state.”

Reporting was contributed by Ivan Nechepurenko from Moscow; Tomas Dapkus from Vilnius, Lithuania; Stanley Reed from London; and Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Monika Pronczuk from Brussels.

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Flight paths over Belarus should be assessed, the transportation secretary says.

The transportation secretary said Monday that the safety of flights operated by U.S. airlines over Belarus should be reviewed after the Eastern European country forced a commercial flight to land in order to seize a dissident on board.

“That’s exactly what needs to be assessed right now,” the secretary, Pete Buttigieg, told CNN. “We, in terms of the international bodies we’re part of and as an administration with the F.A.A., are looking at that because the main reason my department exists is safety.”

The comments came after the authoritarian leader of Belarus dispatched a fighter jet on Sunday to intercept a Ryanair plane carrying the journalist Roman Protasevich. The plane was forced to land in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, where Mr. Protasevich was arrested.

The secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, condemned the forced diversion, saying it was a “shocking act” that “endangered the lives of more than 120 passengers, including U.S. citizens.” And Michael O’Leary, the chief executive of Ryanair, an Irish-based low-cost carrier, called the operation a “state -sponsored hijacking.”

called the re-routing to Minsk “utterly unacceptable,” adding that “any violation of international air transport rules must bear consequences.”

Though not a major European hub, Minsk is served by multiple international airlines, including Lufthansa, KLM, Turkish Airlines and Air France. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines offer flights to Minsk through their partnerships with those European airlines as well as through Belavia, the Belarusian national carrier.

Belarus sits between Poland and Russia and also has borders with Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia, putting it in the path of some flights to and from major European airports.

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