In a bit of a reprieve for airlines, the lead-up to the Presidents’ Day long weekend and Valentine’s Day led plenty of people to board a plane. Thursday, February 11th, and Friday, February 12th, both saw over one million passengers enter TSA screening checkpoints. On February 13th, over 900,000 passengers traveled, leading this to be the best weekend in February and the best weekend in over a month for US travel.
US travel numbers over mid-February
On Thursday, February 11th, 1,034,514 passengers entered a TSA screening checkpoint. This increased to 1,151,420 passengers on Friday, February 12th. On Saturday, February 13th, 900,696 passengers boarded an aircraft.
These were the best days in terms of US traveler numbers since January. On January 15th, the Friday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 903,039 passengers stepped onboard an aircraft in the US. Before that, the New Years’ holiday led January 2nd, 3rd, and 4th to all see over one million passengers each day fly in the US.
The first quarter for US travel
The first quarter is usually one of the slower periods for travel. January and February are normally heavier business traveler months with a few long weekends that are good for leisure travelers. These include Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents’Day.
The biggest and heaviest travel from the first quarter usually comes in March, when colleges and schools go on spring break, and plenty of people come up with some travel plans.
This year, most US airlines have seen a continued trend of weak demand for flying. Most carriers still expect capacity to be down, somewhat in line with the low periods of the fourth quarter, but they are hopeful for some travel in March. One big exception to this is Allegiant. US airlines are experiencing a short booking curve with passengers choosing to book their flights only a few weeks or days out.
Based on that short booking curve, which has not materially lengthened in a few weeks, airlines will not know what sustained demand there is for travel in March. Many passengers who start looking at flights will likely see plenty of availability in March. It is easier for airlines to take away any excess capacity- if there is excess capacity – than add it at the last minute.
Leisure travelers will remain significant
Over the last year, the airline industry has faced an uncertain outlook. Leisure travel started coming back much quicker than business travel. Airlines began to adapt their flying to cater to the demand for outdoor destinations like mountain ski destinations or beaches.
The current inflections of high travel numbers are surrounding the weekends and long weekends. This is a mostly leisure booking pattern that emphasizes that airlines will be focused on transporting those sets of passengers for a longer time than they had expected. Business travel will likely not resume in earnest until late 2021 or even into 2022, per most surveys.
One key piece of evidence for this is the travel numbers for mid-week days. Tuesdays and Wednesdays routinely see far fewer daily travelers than the weekends. Only after Tuesday and Wednesday traffic improves will airlines be out of the clear and into a sustained period of recovery.
Are you traveling this weekend? Let us know in the comments!