The number of passengers at U.S. airports reached the busiest level in over a year this week, according to figures from the Transportation Security Administration, making a steep increase from last spring as travel gradually recovers from a severe coronavirus-induced slump.
More than 1.4 million people were screened at TSA security checkpoints on both Thursday and Friday, the two highest daily figures in about a year.
The TSA has screened just over 1.1 million people per day on average so far this month, compared to 873,000 in February and 110,000 per day last April, meaning this month is on track to be the busiest since March 2020.
But travel is still well below where it was at this point in March 2019, when the TSA was screening more than 2.3 million people per day.
8.9 million. That’s how many people passed through TSA checkpoints over the past week. By comparison, the TSA screened about 8.3 million people during the same period in 2020, and the agency recorded just 666,000 screenings during one week in mid-April.
The travel industry hopes this recovery will continue in the coming months, as new Covid-19 infections decline and more Americans get vaccinated. Several airlines say bookings have increased, driven partly by a renewed interest in leisure travel. And last week, airline and travel agency websites saw a 34% jump in U.S. web traffic compared to the same week in February, though web traffic was still down 42% from 2019, according to data from Jefferies Group.
The Covid-19 pandemic forced scores of business and leisure travelers to stay home, as public health experts warned against unnecessary travel and many countries restricted nonessential visits. As a result, travel through U.S. airports plummeted over 60% last year. Airlines slashed schedules, reduced capacity, and received tens of billions of dollars in federal aid to prevent layoffs, but their losses last year exceeded $35 billion.
Public health officials are still urging people to avoid nonessential flights. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccinated people should avoid traveling due to the risk that they could still spread the coronavirus, and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the recent increase in air travel is worrying because Covid-19 case counts are still fairly high in the United States.
“We are just starting to turn the corner,” Walensky said at a press briefing on Monday. “The data are moving in the right direction, but where this goes is dependent on whether we all do what must be done to protect ourselves and others.”
Air travel is picking up as TSA records highest passenger screenings in nearly a year (CNBC)
Is Travel Coming Back? Airports Have Busiest Days Since March 2020 (Wall Street Journal)