US Recovery Continues As TSA Sees New Passenger Traffic Record

As the vaccination effort in the US continues, more Americans are feeling confident in taking to the skies again. On Sunday, the TSA recorded the highest number of screened passengers since the beginning of the pandemic, hitting over 1.6 million people for the first time in over thirteen months.

American Getty
Passenger numbers in the US are on an upward trajectory. Photo: Getty Images

Over one million more than last year

The forecast for aviation following the pandemic was always that domestic air travel would bounce back quicker than international. With over 246 million doses of vaccine administered in the US, the pent-up demand for travel is continuing to manifest in growing passenger numbers.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said that on Sunday, May 2nd, it screened 1.63 million people at the country’s airports. While it is still 35% lower than the same date in 2019, it is the highest number since March 2020.

On the same day last year, the TSA screened a mere 170,254 passengers. However, the lowest number was recorded on April 13th, 2020, with as few as 87,534 people passing through TSA airport security checkpoints.

US airlines have been quick to respond to the uptick in demand. Some airlines are boosted by the third round of government payroll support, and planned overall capacity for May sits at around 76% of pre-pandemic levels, mostly represented by domestic traffic.

Frontier A320
Some US carriers have even increased their capacity compared to 2019. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

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Large domestic markets leading the way

While 2020 saw the fewest passengers since the mid-1980s, it seems 2021 is looking a little brighter – at least for some. The speedy staycation-style recovery means that airlines with large domestic markets will also have an easier time compared to their smaller-nation counterparts in making their way out of the biggest crisis they have ever faced.

Some US airlines, such as ultra-low-cost carriers Frontier and Allegiant, even have 8% more capacity planned for between March and June compared to the same period in 2019. Meanwhile, United Airlines has added nearly 500 domestic flights per day in June, and Delta Air Lines is flying 90% of its fleet.

Over in Europe, however, budget airlines such as easyJet are still operating at 20% of capacity, although it expects these figures to rise significantly over summer. Meanwhile, legacy carriers such as Lufthansa still have over 50% of fleets currently parked.

US Recovery Continues As TSA Sees New Passenger Traffic Record
United Airlines recently upped its domestic schedule by close to 500 flights per day for June. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

China, which opened up its domestic market fairly early after having beaten down the pandemic with severe restrictions on movement, has overtaken the US as the world’s largest domestic market.

In Russia, Aeroflot’s passenger numbers were down by only 6% in March this year despite strict travel regulations, another testament to the larger domestic markets leading the way in terms of recovery.

Masks remain obligatory until September

Meanwhile, on Friday, the TSA extended its mandate requiring travelers to wear masks at airports, on airplanes, and on commuter bus and rail systems. Initially intended to last until May 11th, it will now run through September 13th after the Association of Flight Attendants called for the directive to be extended to help deal with passengers not complying with face mask regulations of airlines.

Do you think the US domestic market is through the worst of it? Leave a comment below and let us know.