Rebounding Travel: US Passenger Numbers Edge Closer To 2 Million

Just about every week, the US is beating out its passenger numbers. The growth seen over the recent weeks in daily numbers is a testament to the rebounding American air travel market. As summer approaches, the US on Sunday, May 16th, saw 1.85 million passengers take to the sky. If current trends continue, then this summer could see a return to pre-crisis levels.

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Travelers are coming back, and airlines are bringing their capacity back accordingly. Photo: Getty Images

The US hits new record daily traveler numbers

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recorded 1,850,531 passengers entering through a security screening checkpoint. This beat out the previous record set only a few days before, on May 13th, of 1,743,515 passengers.

This was the first day since the start of the crisis when the TSA saw over 1.8 million people fly in one day. Sundays are typically high water marks for passenger numbers and emphasize the strength of leisure customers in the airline recovery.

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Travel numbers are still trending upwards, though there is still room to go until numbers hit a full recovery. Photo: Getty Images

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A growing number of travelers

Since March, passenger numbers in the US have seen a strong upward trend. As vaccinations roll out, travel restrictions come down, and people have more reasons or are more willing to fly, airlines have seen bookings go up, and more seats go out filled.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays continue to remain lower travel days, as they are usually heavier business traveler days. However, as the summer vacations roll out and leisure travelers start to have more flexibility without kids in school, those days should also see a similar bump in travel. These two weekdays have also seen improving travel numbers.

The graph below shows excellent growth with daily variability:

Daily Traveler Numebrs
Daily passenger numbers show variations but are, in general, on an upward trend. Data: TSA | Graph: Simple Flying

Looking at week-to-week data, some other trends are evident:

Weekly passenger numbers
Weekly TSA passenger numbers. Data: TSA | Graph: Simple Flying

There was significant, as in multi-million passenger growth, from week to week in March. Mid-March, which is when most schools go on spring break and families and college students travel, saw significant passenger growth. It was around mid-March when passenger numbers started to register above one million in a day consistently.

Comparing it to 2019, weekly numbers are starting to recover significantly:

2019 vs. 2021 Travel Numbers
Comparing weekly traveler numbers from 2019 to 2021. Data: TSA | Graph: Simple Flying

Currently, numbers are around 65-66% of what they were in 2019 and remain on an upward trend. In early March, numbers were around half of what they were in 2021.

Memorial Day, which is only two weeks away, is a holiday to watch. An unofficial start to the summer, this long weekend should help propel passenger numbers upwards. Memorial Day could be the holiday that pushes daily numbers above two million. If it does, it could set the tone for summer.

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Summer momentum

Assuming passenger numbers continue their upward trend, this should position the recovery at north of 70%, and even into the 80% range, this summer. United Airlines, today, announced it was boosting its July schedules, bringing it to 80% of pre-crisis capacity in the US.

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The summer is expected to be a good one. Photo: Getty Images

As international travel restrictions start to come down, this should also increase the number of passengers taking to the skies. Also, on the international front, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Mexico show strong signs of a rebound, and some airlines have pointed larger planes to the region to capture increased demand.

Passengers are coming back. Airlines are still not out of the woods yet when it comes to profitability, but the airline industry is well on its way to recovery. As passenger numbers increase, loads and yields should follow. While airlines will still need to do some demand stimulation on price in select markets and days, the revenue management systems can start to turn back on, and airlines can have some more command over pricing.

Are you planning summer travel? What do you think about returning passenger travel demand? Let us know in the comments!