The US Airline Recovery Continues With Strong Passenger Counts

The US airline industry recovery continues. US passenger numbers are consistently topping two million passengers in a day, and leisure bookings have recovered. However, that is not without its pains, as the industry faces some structural issues that are making travel a little more stressful than it was in 2019. Here’s where the industry stands.

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As the industry ramp-up continues, there are plenty of growing pains. Photo: Getty Images

The airline recovery continues in earnest

Passenger numbers are recovering. On Thursday and Friday, June 17th and 18th, passenger numbers topped two million in a day. These were the third and fourth days since March 2020 where passenger numbers topped that milestone.

While a few days here and there with strong passenger numbers are not necessarily indicative of a full recovery, the industry has noticed another milestone. The last time fewer than 1.5 million passengers went through a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint was on May 25th. Since June 9th, no fewer than 1.6 million passengers have gone through a checkpoint.

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More flights are going out full, which is great news for airlines, but that does not necessarily mean the industry was prepared to handle it. Photo: Getty Images

Solid non-peak day improvement

Since the start of the crisis, two of the most important days of the week to watch for in terms of passenger numbers are Tuesdays and Wednesdays. These two days are heavy business travel days, and both weekdays have seen significant improvements in travel.

Generally, Tuesday numbers are still weaker compared to other days in the week. On Tuesday, June 15th, 1,678,688 passengers went through a security checkpoint, which was the lowest point in the week. The second-lowest day was Wednesday, June 16th, with 1,792,370 travelers going through a security checkpoint.

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Improvements have been strong on non-peak travel days as well. Photo: Getty Images

Nevertheless, both of those days are in stark contrast to the few hundred thousand passengers each day that were traveling as recently as March. While this is great news for the industry, the ramp-up on the backend of travel has been a completely different story.

The US was not prepared to handle the increase

Universally, the industry has struggled to handle the ramp-up in passenger operations. First and foremost, there are labor shortages across the US. Airlines are having difficulty hiring check-in agents, ramp staff, and more positions. In the terminal, there are still hundreds of concessions closed across the US for various reasons. Even in the areas that are open, there are shortages in labor there, as well as some supply chain issues.

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Turning to the destinations where airlines are flying to, it is clear that the industry is trying to adapt and meet the demand. Rental car shortages are severe across the country. Customers are finding skyrocketing prices if a car is even available. Meanwhile, restaurants in popular tourist destinations are facing significant increases in traffic, leading to long wait times and busy times for staff.

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Long lines are a frequent sight at airports. Photo: Getty Images

As is commonly said, hindsight is 20/20. This time last year, few had imagined the incredible ramp-up of air travel as has materialized. The lack of a clear path forward led to significant fleet retirements and voluntary early-outs that appear now to have been a bit short-sighted and hastily determined. As a result, airlines are now trying to manage flying fewer planes while catering to passengers wanting to travel to reopened destinations at home and abroad.

Then again, there was no guarantee of what the recovery would look like, and airlines turned to a survival mode in 2020. As the industry ramps up, the growing pains will persist, so have some patience and plan ahead for your summer vacation.

Have you traveled in the last week? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments!