March Has Set 4 Pandemic-Era US Passenger Count Records Already

People want to travel, and warm weather and outdoor leisure activities are beckoning spring break travelers unlike any other before. A week-or-so out from the end of the month and March has already set four pandemic-era passenger count records in the US.

American and Southwest
More people are traveling again, leading March to set passenger records. Photo: Ontario International Airport

March sets record for pandemic-era travelers

The first record March set was on Friday the 12th, when the TSA recorded 1,357,111 passengers pass through a security checkpoint. This narrowly beat out the number of passengers that flew on January 3rd, at the end of the winter holiday period.

On March 18th, the second record was set when 1,407,233 passengers entered a TSA screening checkpoint. As a Thursday, this was an impressive number of travelers and bode well for Friday’s numbers.

Air Passengers Getty
Passengers are boarding flights in the US at a record number this month. Photo: Getty Images

Friday, March 19th, set the third record for the month. A total of 1,468,516 passengers passed through a TSA security screening checkpoint. Fridays are typically heavy leisure traveler days, so it was not surprising for the day to top out Thursdays’ numbers.

The fourth record was set on Sunday, March 21st. A total of 1,543,115 passengers entered a TSA security screening checkpoint. This was the first time since March of 2020, when airlines saw over 1.5 million people travel in a day.

Why is spring break proving to be successful?

Spring break, while it is typically an impetus for boosting passenger numbers and bookings in the first quarter, is unlike the December holiday period and Thanksgiving. Spring break does not occur on a set day or week uniformly across the country, which may make it seem even odder for some travelers that random days in March are doing better than two of the busiest holiday travel periods in the US.

Spirit Airlines violent passengers
Spring break is a leisure-driven travel period. Photo: Getty Images

A combination of factors is leading airlines toward a successful spring break. First, the warm weather in various parts of the country after a cold winter is a beacon for many travelers. Another impetus for travel during the ongoing crisis is the decrease in fares and, in some places, cheaper lodging, which is making travel economical for many. The biggest factor, however, is the course of the pandemic.

Case counts and travel restrictions have largely dictated when people tend to fly. The last few weeks have seen a reversal from some of the worst days of the crisis. The decrease in case counts, coupled with an ongoing and impressive rollout of vaccinations, has led many people to become more comfortable with travel.

JetBlue
Warm-weather destinations are at the top of the list for leisure travelers. Photo: Getty Images

Passengers also need a reason to travel, that is, things to do wherever they do travel. As more full-service restaurants open up, theme parks open up, and attractions open up, passengers have more reasons to travel.

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Where does the US go from here?

March has made over one million passengers a day flying an almost regular occurrence. Whether it continues in April and May, leading up to a summer where many, including airlines, are expecting a “summer surge,” depends on various factors, some of which are outside of an airline’s hands.

Passengers Getty
Demand for travel to warm-weather destinations remains high and is likely to remain high heading into the summer. Photo: Getty Images

Not all parts of the country have seen a continued decrease in the number of new cases in a day. Some states, including New Jersey, Michigan, Minnesota, and Massachusetts, have seen a recent increase in the number of daily new cases. This, even as those states continue to roll out vaccines, underscores some of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

Regional spikes, which have the potential to cause national spikes, can affect airlines in the future, which is why all airlines are not yet celebrating and putting the pandemic behind them. While there are some encouraging signs, the airline industry has some ways to go before making a complete domestic recovery and plenty of distance to cross before getting to a full recovery on the international front.

Have you traveled over the past month? Are you looking forward to traveling this year? Let us know in the comments!

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