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U.S. Airport Screenings Near Pandemic Highs Despite New Virus Fears

Ruthy Munoz

December 22nd, 2020

Despite several states reporting an increase in coronavirus cases and California intensive care units at zero capacity, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has screened nearly 4.2 million holiday travelers at airports across the United States since Friday, edging toward new highs since the pandemic began.

This, as a new strain of coronavirus is causing renewed concerns across the globe.

On Monday, the most recent day for which TSA traveler numbers are available, the total count of 954,782 is in sharp contrast to the 2.5 million people screened at the same time last year. Still, this week’s numbers are much higher than in recent weeks, closing in on Thanksgiving’s robust travel.

With many schools already on Christmas break this week, it is traditionally the busiest time for airlines. Holiday numbers are on tract to exceed the 10.5 million who traveled in the 10 final days of November for Thanksgiving this year, despite repeated warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to avoid traveling during the global pandemic.

“The last three reported TSA throughput days have exceeded 1 million in passenger counts. Prior to this weekend, there were a total of four days when reported throughput exceeded 1 million during the pandemic (one in October and three in November),” said Helane Becker, a senior research analyst at Cowen Equity Research. “We forecast a spike in travel ahead of Christmas as people want to see family and friends at Christmas, but are willing to miss them at Thanksgiving. We expect demand to remain relatively elevated through New Years.”

Becker is projecting that between 12 to 15 million people in the U.S. will travel by plane between December 15 and January 3.

Following the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus in the United Kingdom this weekend that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said could be up to 70 percent more transmissible, many countries around the globe are restricting travel to and from the UK ahead of the Christmas holidays. The U.S., however, has yet to announce any restrictions if any to flights between the two countries.

On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo whose state was the first epicenter of the coronavirus in the U.S., took matters into his own hands by calling on the airlines that fly between New York City and the U.K. directly and asking them to add New York state to their lists of 120 countries requiring testing for the virus.

“We have an agreement now with the 3 airlines that fly from the U.K. to the New York airports: Virgin, Delta and British Airways airlines that are flying into New York from the U.K. that have all agreed that they will test people before they get on the flight in the U.K. en route to New York,” Governor Cuomo said.

Cuomo said that although passengers flying into N.Y. will be negative, there is the potential for the virus to spread in N.Y. and other states if people fly to other parts of the country and and return to N.Y.

“This whole notion that any one state can protect itself was foolish from the beginning. New York has one of the lowest infection rates in the United States, but that doesn’t stop the virus from coming in from other states,” said Cuomo.

The International Air Transport Association is working with the International Civil Aviation Organization are piloting a Travel Pass to prove passengers are either negative for Covid-19 or have taken a vaccine to help in the path to recovery. The roll out of the app is expected in the first quarter of 2021 for Apple devices and second quarter for Android devices said Becker .

Ruthy Munoz

December 22nd, 2020

Tags: Airlines, Andrew Cuomo, British Airways, coronavirus, Delta, holiday travel, TSA, Virgin Atlantic

Photo credit: An overhead view of the security screening area at Denver International Airport. Wikimedia Commons / Danpaluska

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