Christmas Leads To Highest TSA Passenger Numbers In 9 Months

The Christmas and New Years’ Holiday is one of the busiest travel periods of the year in the United States. Driven mostly by leisure travelers heading home for the holidays and some off to vacation destinations, airlines saw a record number (for 2020, at least) of passengers step onboard their aircraft. The TSA notched over 2.4 million passengers on Saturday and Sunday alone.

Passengers Getty
Over 2.4 million passengers took to the skies on the weekend after Christmas. Photo: Getty Images

Christmas week

On Friday, December 18th, the TSA noted a fantastic start to the Christmas holiday, for 2020, at least. Over one million passengers stepped onboard an aircraft. This number stayed relatively constant through Saturday and Sunday, before dipping to just under one million in a day on Monday and Tuesday.

The official tally of passengers broken down by day is as follows:

  • Friday, December 18th: 1,066,747 passengers
  • Saturday, December 19th: 1,073,563 passengers
  • Sunday: December 20th: 1,064,619 passengers
  • Monday, December 21st: 954,782 passengers
  • Tuesday, December 22nd: 954,782 passengers
  • Wednesday, December 23rd: 1,191,123 passengers

Around six million people traveled in these six days, which makes this one of the best periods of the year since March.

JFK Airport terminal
The passengers who did fly were greeted with a new travel experience. Photo: Getty Images

Christmas and Thanksgiving have a few similarities. First and foremost, the extended holiday weekend is the perfect time for many families to travel. Schools and universities close during this time, and many people take a few extra days off work to travel.

While numbers were significantly lower this year than they were last year in the Christmas holiday, which saw mostly around 2.1-2.6 million passengers in a day, airlines are ending 2020 on a relatively good note, all things considered, compared to where they were in the summer.

Christmas travel was blunted by a flurry of travel restrictions. California has severely restricted out-of-state travel, and many states in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast US have mandated testing, quarantines, or a mix of both, which can be burdensome on leisure travelers.

Post-Christmas weekend

Christmas this year was on a Friday, which meant most people automatically received an extended weekend from Friday through Sunday. This comes on top of most nonessential workers also getting Thursday off and those essential workers who took days off.

On Christmas Eve, 846,520 passengers traveled. There was another sharp decrease on Christmas itself when only 616,469 people got onboard an aircraft.

Travel guidance from public health officials, quarantine requirements, and travel restrictions definitely impacted Christmas bookings and cancelations. Photo: Getty Images

There was another sharp increase on Saturday, December 26th, when 1,128,773 people flew. Then, capping out Christmas week, another 1,284,599 travelers entered through a TSA security checkpoint. In total, 2,413,372 people flew on the two days after Christmas, making this the best weekend for US airlines since March.

Heading into 2021

January 1st, 2021, also falls on a Friday this year, meaning another extended holiday for a decent number of workers. Expect, as the new year rolls around, a decent number of people to travel again. This will likely not be at the same number as the Christmas week, but it will be a good weekend entering 2021.

Another drop-off should happen after the New Years’ holiday, given how there is only one three-day weekend in January, and it is another slower season for flying.

Passengers Getty
US passengers have taken to the skies in high numbers amid the winter holiday season. Photo: Getty Images

The one variable, however, is what remote work looks like for passengers. Some, who grew quarantine fatigue in 2020, may act on the urge to fly somewhere on vacation in 2021. With remote work, a lot of passengers have been flying business-style itineraries to leisure destinations. A significant number of people are doing weekday travel to leisure destinations.

2021 is also the year when more people will be getting vaccinated. While some airlines have already announced they will be mandating proof of vaccination for travel, countries will likely be the ones who enforce this, as there is already precedent for mandating vaccinations for travel.

Have you traveled over the Christmas holiday? Do you have plans to travel before 2021 starts? Let us know in the comments!