The latest Transportation Security Administration (TSA) numbers are showing that passengers are starting to get onboard planes again. On April 30th, 154,695 passengers were screened. While this is still significantly below the 2.5 million from the same day last year, it shows a movement in the right direction for the industry.
The recent uptick in passengers
Below is the graph for passengers from April 14th onwards:
On April 14th, the TSA screened a record low of 87,534 passengers. Since then, passenger count has increased and hovered between the 100,000 and 120,000 range. Finally, on April 30th, it went up to 154,695 screenings.
Here is the comparison of passenger screenings from 2019 versus 2020 for the same time period:
Once the coronavirus started to take its toll, passenger numbers began to plummet. In the early days of March, the TSA was still screening close around two million passengers a day. By March 17th, that was down to just under one million before crashing down to the mid- to low- 100,000s where it remained until mid-April.
Compared to early March through April last year, the numbers show just how substantial the difference in passenger count is.
March and April
In the United States, March and April are periods when schools have their spring break and this is a popular time for people to get away and take a vacation after months of winter. However, with the onset of coronavirus, states and localities started to issue stay-at-home orders. Countries began to close their borders, while hotels and restaurants shut down. Furthermore, major tourist attractions closed. All of this was done to help contain the spread of the virus.
Most of the high numbers through mid-March are likely people who headed home once the virus started to worsen before, in April, travel nearly came to a halt. For airlines, this was especially dangerous and represents how bad the situation is.
What does the uptick mean?
Countries emerging out of lockdowns, like China and Vietnam, have seen passenger numbers start to rebound. In the United States, different states are taking different approaches to resuming aspects of ‘normal life’. Some had stay-at-home orders that expired in the last few days, giving some people the opportunity to return home if necessary. However, tourist travel remains highly discouraged and shuttered.
These numbers also corroborate some reports surfacing on Twitter of passengers traveling on packed flights with limited opportunities for social distancing. Although, this does not represent a drastic increase as airlines still operate on bare-bones schedules mandated by the US Department of Transportation.
Airline policy changes
Airlines are also now taking measures to protect passengers. Some airlines are providing masks and hand sanitizer to passengers while others have made it a requirement for passengers to wear a mask during travel. Domestic inflight services have also either been completely suspended or significantly reduced.
Some airlines are blocking middle seats while others are doing it on a “when possible” basis. Overall, however, it shows a cautious industry attempting to return to normal.
Airlines know that passengers are not going to forget about this pandemic for a long time. For at least a few months, health agencies are also strongly encouraging people to maintain social distancing and stay at home wherever and whenever possible. However, there are some people who do need to undertake essential travel. And, at some point, leisure travel will also open up and people will start to fly again.
When exactly these measures will end still remains to be seen. It could be possible that masks and hand sanitizer will remain a mainstay onboard aircraft through the fall if not longer.
As more states and countries lift stay-at-home orders and border closures, passengers will start flying again. Most people flying in the first few days of such measures will likely be people trying to get home.
Although this recent uptick shows that passengers are starting to get onboard aircraft again, it does not mean that airlines will start to turn a profit anytime soon.
Do you have plans to fly soon? What do you make of these passenger numbers? Let us know in the comments!