How Much Has US Travel Rebounded?

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The United States has started to see its steady rebound in passenger travel. Week after week, the TSA is recording more people going through security, and thus, more people flying. Airlines have also been responding in kind with increases in capacity and flights. But that begs the question, how much has US travel rebounded?

Delta Atlanta
Delta aircraft at an empty Atlanta airport this June. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

Week-on-week screening numbers show signs of an increase

Using week-upon-week numbers, the TSA has seen a steady increase in passengers since mid-April with numbers expected to go up. Every week, the TSA is recording increases in the number of people who cross through security checkpoints around the country. On June 4th, the last publicly available date of full screening count at the time of publication, the TSA screened 391,882 passengers. This is a good sign indicating that passenger numbers could cross 400,000 on Friday, June 5th.

Passenger travel
Passenger numbers have been returning slowly, but surely. Graph: Simple Flying | Data: TSA

At the lowest point of this crisis, the TSA only screened 87,534 passengers. Comparing that to passengers about two months later shows an increase of over 400%.

Airlines are adding capacity

American Airlines is planning for a significant summer capacity increase. Delta will maintain blocked middle seats but add additional flights, if necessary. Overall, the situation is starting to get better for the industry. However, a complete recovery is still a long way out.

American and Delta Aircraft
US airlines are taking different approaches with limiting capacity onboard. Photo: Getty Images

In 2019, security screening numbers for the same period routinely topped two million passengers per day. This means that daily screenings are down over 80%, but gradually increasing.

What does the recovery look like compared to the drop in demand?

Passenger numbers in the US dropped off dramatically from March 15th. Within a week, those numbers dipped below 500,000 passengers per day with a continuing downward trajectory. Essentially, it was a very sharp and sudden drop.

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Recovery is not rocketing back. Instead, demand is slowly but surely starting to rise. Week-on-week passenger growth remains healthy– with double-digit percentage gains in the last few weeks between 10 and 20%. But, given how few people are traveling, the week-on-week gains are not massive. Before the crisis, it was not uncommon for the TSA to cross 10-13 million passengers per week. Last week, that number was just over 2.2 million.

Recovery
After a sharp drop in the number of people traveling, demand has been much less dramatic in coming back. Graph: Simple Flying | Data: TSA

If travel is not coming back sharply, then why are airlines adding capacity?

It depends on each airline. Some destinations, especially beach and mountain vacation spots, have seen an increase in demand leading airlines to add additional flights. Meanwhile, other flights are being driven by cargo. While passenger demand alone would not warrant several of American’s newly reinstated international flights, there is enough cargo demand to help pay the bills for those flights.

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AMerican and southest
While some destinations may not see services on a particular airline for a few years, others are turning into hotspots for visitors. Photo: Getty Images

Additionally, it should be noted that TSA checkpoint screening numbers do not indicate the status of future bookings. However, the steady increase in the number of passengers and airline fleet plans show that passengers may be booking new itineraries or else keeping their flight plans for the summer.

More capacity, however, is good for passengers since it means added flexibility in choosing travel plans and building connections. And some of the newly reinstated flights are bringing back nonstop services although it is not a complete return to normal since the flight experience has changed quite a bit.

Do you have summer travel plans? Is this recovery going slower than you anticipated or more quickly? Let us know in the comments!

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