Friday Sets Record For Pandemic-Era Passenger Throughput In US

On March 12th, the United States saw over 1.3 million passengers board an aircraft. A record since the start of the crisis, the March numbers bode well for travel heading into the summer and beyond. Airlines are seizing on demand for leisure travel and laying on additional flights in high-demand markets, showing an appetite for travel amid declining case counts and increasing vaccinations.

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Passengers boarded flights in the US at a record volume on Friday. Photo: Getty Images

A new record set on March 12th

On March 12th, 1,357,111 passengers passed through a TSA security screening checkpoint. This beat out the previous record of January 3rd by about 30,000 additional passengers. January 3rd’s numbers were influenced by the winter holiday surge, though numbers slid in the weeks after.

This is the first time in a year that air travel numbers have been this high. The last day when the TSA saw more than 1.3 million people cross through a security checkpoint was on March 15th, 2020, when 1.5 million people flew onboard an aircraft in the US.

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US passengers are showing a willingness to fly over spring break. Photo: Getty Images

March proves to be a good month for airlines

After tempered expectations for the first quarter in January, improving demand trends brought a far better March than many had previously anticipated.

Of the 12 days of the month for which there is readily available TSA data, seven of those days have seen passenger numbers cross one million, with another two days over 950,000 passengers.

Even Tuesday and Wednesday passenger numbers have been high and are key indicators for the recovery:

  • Tuesday, March 2nd: 743,134 passengers
  • Wednesday, March 3rd: 782,727 passengers
  • Tuesday, March 9th: 823,210 passengers
  • Wednesday, March 10th: 955,177 passengers
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Over half of the days in March already have seen over one million passengers fly in a day. Photo: Getty Images

Tuesdays and Wednesdays are normally higher business travel days, as leisure customers prefer to plan their trips around the weekends. Seeing higher passenger numbers on these days indicates growing strength in leisure passengers and in some other market segments, which is good news for airlines.

All in all, over 12.6 million passengers have flown since the start of March, which is an excellent number and is good news for airlines from a spring break perspective.

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Passengers are flocking to leisure, warm-weather destinations. Photo: Getty Images

Heading into the summer

With demand starting to materialize again, most trends from last year are still in effect. International border closures and hesitation in doing long-haul international travel have led many passengers to choose to travel domestically.

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Not all flights are going out full, however. Photo: Getty Images

As those trends strengthen and long-haul international travel continues to appear depressed, airlines have restructured their route networks and capacity to cater to this growing number of passengers. Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport (BZN) is expecting to see higher passenger numbers than 2019 this summer, and Alaska is getting new services from Delta Air Lines and Boeing 787 flights from American Airlines. Namesake carrier Alaska Airlines is also be growing out of Anchorage. Austin is getting a host of new services from American Airlines.

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Beach destinations continue to remain strong. Spirit Airlines is coming to Pensacola, Southwest Airlines is adding Myrtle Beach to its network, and Allegiant Air is planning to grow its first-quarter capacity. Beach destinations are a strong point in Allegiant’s network.

Many trends from the past year are continuing into the summer. Photo: Getty Images

Additional schedule adjustments are expected to come as carriers continue to evaluate their route networks. Expect more summer growth this year, especially as vaccinations roll out and people become more comfortable flying on a plane. This may lead to an increase in widebody utilization on domestic routes.

Have you traveled recently? Do you have travel plans for this month? Let us know in the comments!