US Sets Another Pandemic-Era Record As Travel Rebounds

The US has set another pandemic-era record for daily passenger numbers. The latest numbers for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) show over 1.7 million passengers boarded an aircraft on Friday, May 7th. This comes as airlines are set to increase capacity this summer significantly, and passengers show a willingness to step onboard an aircraft again.

Avelo and Southwest
US airlines are seeing passengers come back onboard aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

US passenger numbers have set a record

On Friday, May 7th, 1,703,267 passengers passed through a TSA security checkpoint. This was a pandemic-era high and marked the first time since March 2020 when over 1.7 million passengers flew in a single day in the US, just a few days after a previous record was set.

May’s success comes after incredible April numbers. There was not a single day in April where passenger numbers dipped below one million in a day. This includes Tuesdays and Wednesdays, which are typically heavier business days.

Passengers are coming back to the skies. Photo: Getty Images

Some upticks in travel at the end of April and into May can be attributed to expanding access to air travel. This includes airlines resuming or adding new routes and, uniquely, the launch of a new carrier: Avelo Airlines. While Avelo has a relatively small footprint, the fact that it felt comfortable enough to launch at the end of April is a sign of returning travel demand.

How far the US airline recovery has come

Below is a look at the US domestic recovery from March 1st through May 7th:

2021 traveler numbers
Passenger numbers have consistently been above one million per day since mid-March. Data: TSA | Graph: Simple Flying

Compared to 2019, passenger numbers in 2021 are still comparatively low:

2021 vs 2019
2019 vs. 2021 Passenger Throughput. Data: TSA | Graph: Simple Flying

In early March, passenger numbers in 2021 were around 40% of 2019 levels. Now, those numbers are more like 60-65% of 2019-levels. The TSA data compares the same weekday from 2019, which is a more apt comparison, as different days have different expected passenger numbers.

For example, Fridays and Mondays can see spikes in passenger numbers as leisure and business travelers fill up aircraft. This decreases on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when business travelers predominantly fill up aircraft.

For example, this past week, May 3th and May 5th saw only 54% and 55% of the same passenger numbers from that same weekday in 2019. On Thursday, May 6th, it rose to 64%, while Friday crossed 65%, showing strength among leisure travelers seeking to travel around the weekends to maximize vacation days.

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Good signs for summer

Leisure travelers make up the bulk of the travelers in May 2021. As the busy northern summer season rolls around, those numbers could get much higher. Hitting 2019-levels in summer 2021 is definitely a possibility, especially as more states and attractions open up, leading to a spike in leisure travelers.

Passengers Getty
Leisure travelers are making up the bulk of passengers flying. Photo: Getty Images

Business travelers are also coming back. Though strongly impaired currently, airlines have seen different business travel segments return. Small and medium-sized businesses have come back stronger than large corporate accounts, which are generally dependent on corporate policy to return to the skies.

All-in-all, the recovery is continuing, though there may be some setbacks. Vaccinations in the US have slowed as demand has dipped. If cases rise again, it could lead some states and jurisdictions to delay their reopenings. This could spell trouble for airlines in the future, though airlines are expecting improving numbers through summer.

For now, however, airlines are still moving forward for a big summer. Carriers are adding capacity to mostly leisure destinations in the US and abroad. Passenger numbers appear as if they could come back strong again. June, and particularly July,  will be the big months to watch.

Have you returned to the skies in the last few weeks? Do you have summer travel plans? Let us know in the comments!