Nearly 1 Million Passengers Took To The Skies In The US On Friday

Labor Day weekend is turning out to be the best holiday long weekend of summer 2020. With just under 970,000 passengers entering security checkpoints across the US, it appears that there is a returning appetite for leisure travel – especially around the holiday weekends, and perhaps the industry could see a figure of one million passengers in one day come Monday.

US Airliens United and Southwest Getty
US airlines will likely see higher load factors over this Labor Day weekend with more people flying. Photo: Getty Images

What Friday’s numbers show

On Friday, September 4th, the TSA recorded 968,673 passengers entering security checkpoints. This was the highest figure recorded in one day since March 16th, when the TSA saw over 1.2 million people enter security checkpoints.

While to some it may seem that this would put September on a good track, there is reason to be cautious. For one, the Labor Day weekend is the last big holiday season in the United States until Thanksgiving hits in November. After Labor Day, schools and universities reopen across many different states and cities, and more families and young adults, which tend to make up the bulk of leisure travelers in the US, are not traveling as frequently as they did over the summer holidays.

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The travel experience is different this year, but over 968,000 passengers experienced it in the US on Friday. Photo: Getty Images

One million passengers on Monday?

It is likely. However, past trends show that returning Labor Day traffic does bleed across both Monday and Tuesday after solid numbers on Thursday and Friday, leading up to the weekend. For example, a breakdown of Labor Day numbers last year:

  • Thursday: 2,561,109 passengers
  • Friday: 2,658,558 passengers
  • Saturday: 1,954,902 travelers
  • Sunday: 1,887,845 passengers
  • Monday: 2,278,159 passengers
  • Tuesday: 2,037,750 passengers

This year, so far, the TSA recorded 877,698 passengers on Thursday, 968,673 passengers on Friday, and 664,640 passengers on Saturday. If last year’s trends are to hold, then Monday and Tuesday would likely see about 800-900k passengers a day.

American Airlines passengers
Planes will be fuller, but overall capacity remains lower than it was in 2019. Photo: Getty Images

However, 2020 is nothing like 2019, so trends could change. With most schools, including some big districts like Seattle Public Schools, going digital for the start of the year, some families may choose to stick around at their vacation destination or a family member’s house for a few more days. Or else, others may decide to come home a little early to prepare for work from home or digital learning. The full picture will only appear once Monday, and Tuesday’s numbers come out.

A million passengers a day is still a way out

While the Labor Day holiday weekend will, undoubtedly, be one of the brightest spots in this year of misfortunes, the real goalpost would be a million passengers a day. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, outside the traditional holiday weekends, still remain quite weak with only about 500-600k passengers a day, a far cry from the conventional 1.5 million+ passengers in a day.

It is going to be a long ride for airlines out of this crisis. Photo: Getty Images

Leisure travelers are driving the recovery, though major US airlines are hopeful that video conferencing proves to be a temporary and not a permanent replacement for the face-to-face meetings that required corporations to spend heavily on business travel.

September is traditionally a heavy business travel month, as Southwest’s CEO noted. Travel data from this month will provide a clearer picture as to what the state of business travel is since, during the summer, leisure travelers are much stronger throughout the week and especially on the weekends.

Are you traveling this Labor Day Weekend? Do you think Monday will see over one million passengers traveling? Let us know in the comments!