The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has kept a record of the daily number of travelers passing through a security checkpoint since the start of the crisis. Over the ongoing Memorial Day holiday weekend, passenger numbers have been up big. On Friday, May 28th, the TSA recorded just shy of two million passengers in one day.
Memorial Day weekend numbers
On May 28th, 1,959,593 passengers passed through a TSA checkpoint. This was the highest single-day tally since the start of the crisis in mid-March of 2020. For weeks, it was clear that Memorial Day – the unofficial start of the summer season in the United States – would be a bellwether for summer travel in the United States.
The data shows that passengers are clearly willing to take to the skies. On Thursday, May 27th, 1,854,534 passengers took to the skies. Saturday, May 29th, saw a slight dip in numbers to 1,605,810 passengers. The Saturday dip was not surprising as passengers tend to book their travel to maximize time away.
Airlines were prepared
Airlines were prepared to handle the increased traffic in terms of routes and schedules. Most of the planes parked in 2020 that were not permanently retired are taking to the skies again. In the lead-up to the Memorial Day holiday, US airlines piled on new routes and resuming routes to cater to leisure travelers looking to take a vacation.
The returning routes are good news for airline employees. Even though the US government offered three rounds of payroll support to airlines, the return of air travel means more job security. With fares going up and airlines projecting profitability ahead, some crew can breathe a sigh of relief.
The pains of returning air travel
The return of air travel in the United States has not been without its problems. First, one of the largest problems facing airlines is unruly passengers. The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has cracked down with heavy fines against passengers who defy crew orders or disrupt operations.
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Even with the crackdown, not all passengers are deterred from lashing out onboard an aircraft. Recently, a flight attendant on Southwest Airlines lost two teeth after a passenger turned violent onboard the aircraft. This has led Southwest, and its competitor American Airlines, to delay alcohol sales resumptions.
The return of air travel came relatively suddenly, leaving many critical positions understaffed. The TSA is on a hiring spree, with plans to hire a total of 6,000 new screeners this summer. Meanwhile, in airports, passengers may notice some shuttered concession stands as managers try to bring back employees and restart operations – though some are also wary about whether or not the return of air travel is as sure-footed as it seems.
Meanwhile, for passengers, this means long lines and the return of filled aircraft. Last year, many passengers could count on blocked seats or load factors low enough to allow for spacing out onboard a plane. Unfortunately, inflight services continue to remain limited, and a lack of a full return of concessions means passengers should come to the airport prepared with snacks to take onboard. Snacks and meals are expected to come back this summer.
The biggest frustration point for travelers and airlines has been shortages and bottlenecks outside of air travel. While planes can bring back or add new capacity, hotels, restaurants, and rental car agencies made structural changes in 2020 that are now starting to rear their ugly end. Hotels and restaurants are seeing shortages in labor, while rental car agencies simply do not have enough vehicles to cater to all the passengers flying.
Nevertheless, air travel is coming back in the United States. As passengers take to the skies, airlines start to bring back crew, planes, and routes, and the world opens up again. The Memorial Day holiday – which is not yet over – is predicting some good signs for air travel moving forward.
Are you traveling this weekend? How are you thinking about your summer air travel plans? Let us know in the comments!