Daily US Passengers Surpass 1 Million For First Time Since March

It finally happened. On October 18th, over one million passengers took to the sky in the United States. This was the highest daily total number of passengers since March 16th. Airlines are still not out of the woods yet, but this is a welcome sign.

Passengers TSA
The TSA screened over a million passengers on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images

Daily passengers surpass one million

On Sunday, 1,031,505 passengers passed through TSA screening checkpoints across the United States. This was the first day since March 16th when US travelers crossed one million. For the last few weeks, the US was inching closer and closer to one million in a day on the weekends but had yet to cross the number until yesterday.

Week-to-week passenger numbers also crossed six million for the first time since March.

2020 Passenger Counts
Last week (Monday through Sundays) was the best week for airlines in months in terms of passenger numbers since March. Data: TSA | Graph: Simple Flying

While this may look like a great sign, the weekday breakdowns provide a little more insight:

  • Monday, October 12th: 958,440
  • Tuesday, October 13th: 680,894
  • Wednesday, October 14th: 717,940
  • Thursday, October 15th: 950,024
  • Friday, October 16th: 973,046
  • Saturday, October 17th: 788,743
  • Sunday, October 18th: 1,031,505

The days of higher passenger numbers indicate the kinds of people traveling right now. Leisure travelers typically fly on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays– which see the highest number of travelers in a day.

PSP Airport
Leisure travelers are ready to get back to flying. Photo: Getty Images

Saturdays have always been interesting travel days. They are not heavy business travel days, but they are also not big for leisure travelers who would rather maximize the weekend.

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Where in the recovery is the industry?

Week-to-week, the recovery stands at between 30 and 40% of 2019’s levels. Though up from the 10-11% it was in May, this is still a rough level for US airlines.

Weekly passenger numbers 2019 vs 2020
Monday-Sunday passenger counts 2019 vs. 2020. Data: TSA | Graph: Simple Flying

Some are doing better than others. Low-cost carriers predominantly geared towards leisure travelers have seen an outsized share of passengers jump onboard their flights.

Depending on which airline you listen to, each airline has a different take on the situation. All major US airlines believe that business travel will come back. United’s team is bullish on the return, and Delta’s team believes that business travel will be down over the next few years, but come back and be relatively strong. Until business travel comes back, most major US airlines will need to take steps to survive.

Airlines and passengers US airlines getty
US airlines are only seeing about 35-40% of the passenger numbers they saw last year. Photo: Getty Images

Will this number stay?

The one thing the industry has not seen over the last few weeks is a significant decline in passenger numbers. While there are some week-to-week variations, the overall trend shows relatively stable passenger numbers from one week to the next.

Passengers getty
More passengers are flying now for the last few months. Photo: Getty Images

The numbers will likely stay at or near one million in a day for the next few weeks, perhaps with some improvement leading into Thanksgiving. By the time Thanksgiving hits in late November, there is a good chance that more than one day a week could see over a million passengers in a day. Thanksgiving is typically a big travel week in the United States.

This also shows that there are more people each week becoming comfortable with stepping onboard an aircraft. Some airlines are still blocking seats onboard aircraft, while others are not and booking fully to capacity. In either case, passengers are getting back onboard planes, and this is good news for airlines, but no one is out of the woods yet.

Have you been traveling recently? Do you have new travel plans over the next few weeks? Let us know in the comments!