TSA Passenger Numbers Dropped By 61% In 2020

The TSA released its final travel volume figures for 2020 on Monday. It will have come as a surprise to no one that the numbers were low, to say the least. The end-of-year total of 324 million passengers was a mere 39% of 2019 levels.

JFK Airport terminal
Passenger numbers were at previously inconceivable lows over the past year. Photo: Getty Images

Figures for 2020 will keep on giving for a while. A year like no other in commercial aviation, numbers are bound to be at an all-time low across the board. The US Transport Security Administration (TSA) has now reported its number of passengers over the past twelve months.

Between January 1st and December 31st, 2020, the TSA screened close to 324 million passengers at airport security checkpoints. That is down by 61% of the 824 million total passengers from the year before.

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Rock bottom hit in April

The lowest number was recorded on April 14th, reaching a total of only 87,500 passengers. The figure represents a mere 4% of travelers for the same date in 2019. During the traditionally busiest period from Thanksgiving leading up to New Year’s Eve, passenger levels moved between a low of 24% and a high of 61% of those of 2019.

TSA coronavirus covid
The lowest number of passengers in 2020 was recorded on April 14th. Photo: Getty Images

Highest number since the start of the pandemic reached Sunday

While these figures are bleak indeed, there is cause for tentative hope. On December 3rd, the TSA screened 1,327,289 passengers – the highest number since the beginning of the crisis. Albeit a traditionally busy day as people journey back home following the holidays, the new benchmark is still a welcome step in the right direction.

The agency now anticipates that daily travel volumes will continue to rise steadily. However, it still expects numbers to remain well below pre-pandemic levels for most of 2021.

Adapting to the new normal

It was not only low figures and empty security checkpoints that marked the year for the TSA. As the pandemic crashed over North America, the agency had to race to adapt security procedures for the safety of both passengers and employees. Beyond acrylic barriers and mask and glove regulations, this has included pilot programs of biometric recognition software and antimicrobial trays.

“In 2020, TSA implemented significant operational changes across its entire security checkpoint environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The speed and degree of change was unmatched in our 19-year history,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement seen by Simple Flying.

TSA Facemasks
While the TSA has implemented new routines, many of its employees have fallen ill with COVID-19 throughout the year. Photo: Getty Images

On the front lines

The TSA is an agency of the US Department of Homeland Security. The Department has not been included in the plans under Operation Warp Speed for federal employees’ priority vaccination.

As such, the Washington Post reports, TSA field managers have been instructed to plead with local health departments and airports to have their employees be granted early access to the vaccine.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, over 4,000 TSA agents have tested positive for the virus. Most of these are passenger screeners. Eleven have died.

How long do you think it will be before passenger numbers in the US are back to pre-pandemic levels? Do you believe TSA agents should be on the priority list for vaccination? Let us know in the comments.