With the Memorial Day holiday weekend over in the United States, the symbolic threshold of two million passengers in a day was not crossed. However, with two days crossing 1.9 million screenings in a day and one day topping 1.85 million, the US is well on its way towards recovery. All signs continue to point toward an excellent summer, considering the circumstances.
Memorial Day passenger numbers
Memorial Day 2021 fell on May 31st. A national holiday, this long weekend is typically a strong one for travel. While travel patterns vary, the Memorial Day surge started to show itself from Thursday, May 27th. The passenger volume tallies per day came out as follows:
- Thursday, May 27th: 1,854,534 passengers
- Friday, May 28th: 1,959,593 passengers
- Saturday, May 29th: 1,605,810 passengers
- Sunday, May 30th: 1,650,454 passengers
- Monday, May 31st: 1,900,170 passengers
Thursday, Friday, and Monday all proved to be heavily travelled days, though this was expected. Passengers flying around the holiday typically try to plan their vacation to maximize time off. Some people will book Thursday to Monday itineraries, while others will book Friday to Monday itineraries.
The data for Tuesday, June 1st, was not available at the time of writing. However, it is expected to be lower than the passenger count from Monday, May 31st. Tuesdays are typically lower travel days, though there could be a sizable sum of people who booked a return travel itinerary on Tuesday to utilize more of their days off or take advantage of remote work.
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Why the Memorial Day holiday matters
Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer season. From mid-May onwards, schools in the US start to close for the summer, and leisure travel starts to pick up. Memorial Day, which always falls on the last Monday in May, is a bellwether for summer travel.
Almost all of the passengers traveling around the Memorial Day long weekend were leisure passengers. This includes people going on vacation or going out to visit family. While leisure travel has recovered much faster than domestic travel, it is clear there is some room to go, though recent signs show that the full leisure travel recovery is just around the corner.
For example, United Airlines recently reported that domestic leisure yields had exceeded 2019 levels, and the airline expects domestic leisure yields to remain higher than 2019 levels through the summer. Other airlines have also stated they are seeing similar signs. While yields are not the same as passenger numbers, it is clear that the leisure recovery is continuing and that airlines are starting to see better financial fortunes.
How things look for the summer
For summer 2021, airlines seem set up to be in good shape. While there is some recovery left in pure passenger numbers, pent-up demand is starting to reveal itself, and airlines are happily taking in new bookings for the summer.
Summer 2021 passenger numbers are likely to remain lower than summer 2019 for structural reasons. For example, business travel continues to remain lower and international destinations remain closed. Typically heavy international travel – primarily to Europe – in the summer will remain impaired with only a handful of destinations accepting tourists again, though even those markets are improving.
This will put downward pressure on total passenger volumes, though capacity increases in the domestic market may offset that. Nevertheless, without the business traveler coming back on Mondays through Thursdays, there remain headwinds to getting to 2019 levels of passengers.
With passenger volumes roughly at 70-80% of 2019 levels, things are looking up for the summer. While the US fell short of screening two million passengers in one day, airlines are set to benefit from leisure travelers willing to pay more and the continued release of pent-up demand.
What is concerning is that many airports saw lines reminiscent of 2019 levels of travel. This represents some of the lag with the labor recovery in the airline industry, as concessions, gates, ticket counters, and other facilities remain relatively understaffed. As more passengers come back, the impetus is on airlines, airports, and business owners to try and mitigate those wait times.
Did you fly over the Memorial Day weekend holiday? Let us know in the comments!