August Is A Wrap – How Was The Month For US Air Travel?

The true summer holidays in the United States are coming to an end with the start of September. August, usually the last hurrah for airlines in a successful summer, is typically one of the best months of the entire year. This summer, while August was pretty good for airlines, it was more or less a continuation of numbers from July. Here’s how the month turned out.

Alaska and American
While August did not turn out the way airlines wanted it to, it was a relief for carriers that traveler numbers remained relatively stagnant post-July instead of dipping significantly. Photo: Getty Images

Travel was pretty stagnant

Since July, passenger numbers have more or less plateaued, capping off weeks of excellent growth figures leading up to the Independence Day holiday on July 4th. However, since then, week-to-week passenger numbers have remained pretty stagnant with a few dips. The best week in summer travel for 2020 was the week of August 10th through the 16th, when the TSA screened over five million passengers in one week. Here’s the breakdown of weekly passenger numbers since April, when traffic bottomed out:

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily aviation news digest.

Weekly Numbers
Weekly passenger numbers (Monday through Sunday). Data: TSA | Graph: Simple Flying

The more specific breakdown from August, which includes data from the last week in July, shows a relatively steady month with numbers peaking in mid-August.

August weekly
August’s weekly passenger numbers remained pretty stagnant (week being considered as Monday through Sunday). Data: TSA | Graph: Simple Flying

As for daily numbers in August, there were some bright spots with some Sundays crossing 800,000 passengers passing through security checkpoints. The graph is shown below:

August numbers
Daily passenger numbers show the greatest number of travelers boarded planes on Sundays while Tuesdays and Wednesdays were pretty low. Data: TSA | Graph: Simple Flying

When compared to 2019, it is also easy to see that there are some similarities and differences. Weekend numbers tend to be higher as leisure travelers join some corporate travelers in getting onboard aircraft.

August Is A Wrap – How Was The Month For US Air Travel?
2020’s August versus travel from a one-month time period in 2019. Data: TSA | Graph: Simple Flying

How was August for airlines?

In June and early July, airlines were excited for August, adding thousands of flights and preparing for a month that could see weekly passenger numbers crossing six or seven million. However, in mid-July, it was clear that this would not materialize and that the month would be relatively similar to July.

Delta and United
Still, on a lot of routes, airlines flew smaller jets as a result of lower demand. Photo: Getty Images

But, airlines still added new flights. JetBlue began part of its expansion at the end of July that carried into August, and all other carriers also added flights back where they were necessary. Most of the travel, however, was leisure-oriented. Still, some routes remained oriented to business travelers.

The popular Los Angeles (LAX) to New York (JFK and EWR) route remained competitive with several daily offerings on American’s specially-configured three-class Airbus A321T, Delta’s Boeing 767s, JetBlue’s Mint-equipped Airbus A320s, and a mix of lie-flat offerings from United onboard Boeing 777s, 757s, 767s, and the swanky 787-10.

September is not off to the best of starts

The TSA also released data for travelers from September 1st. On that day, a Tuesday, which is traditionally a weekday with fewer travelers, the TSA notched just over 516,000 travelers, which was the lowest number of travelers in one day since July 4th. However, it was only a few thousand passengers shy of August’s lowest passenger day on the 25th with only 523,186 screenings.

Southwest, and many other airlines, need business to double to at least break even, let alone turn a profit. Photo: Getty Images

September is when schools and colleges reopen, meaning fewer families and leisure that can go out and travel. This leaves business passengers as the strongest source of revenue in September. But, as Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly stated at the end of August, business travel remains light in the historically heavier business travel month and, overall, numbers need to double for the carrier to break even.

Thus, the airline has pulled back capacity for September. Other US airlines will also likely continue to adjust flights in September, which is pretty typical for low-cost airlines like Allegiant and Spirit on a year-to-year basis.

What do you make of August’s passenger counts in the US? Let us know in the comments!