The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 18.8 million people at the nation’s airports over the Christmas and New Year holidays, the highest number of passengers screened over any three-week period since the pandemic began.
Although the number of passengers screened between December 18, 2020-January 4, 2021 was the largest since March, traffic was a fraction of what it was during the same period last year, when 42.3 million passengers went through airport checkpoints.
Holiday traffic was up significantly in sharp contrast to the pandemic travel low point in April, when only 1.8 million passed through TSA checkpoints during a three-week period, April 6-23, 2020.
The uptick in travel comes even as large metropolitan areas are dealing with an increase in coronavirus and advising against travel and the U.S. is seeing its first cases of the new strain of Covid-19.
On April 14, 2020, the lowest number of travelers for the entire year — 87,534 — was screened in the U.S., just 4% of the passenger volume recorded in 2019.
The latest TSA throughput numbers released on Tuesday show the 1.3 million passengers screened made Monday the highest single day of travel since 1.5 passengers were screened on March 15, 2020.
“Since the Covid-19 pandemic decimated air travel, there were a total of 15 days when the TSA screened [more than 1 million] people, said Cowen & Co. analyst Helane Becker. Eleven of those days occurred between mid-December and January 3, Becker added.
“We expect the next few weeks will once again show significant deterioration in trends, and be more representative of the current market,” Becker said in a note.
Becker believes that a combination of the coronavirus vaccine rollout lagging government expectations, increased restrictions and lockdowns will continue to depress both business and leisure travel.
In 2020, the TSA screened a total of 324 million passengers at airport security checkpoints, a sharp contrast to the nearly 824 million people screened in 2019. The 2020 totals are just 39% of the pre-Covid levels seen in 2019.
“In 2020, TSA implemented significant operational changes across its entire security checkpoint environment due to the Covid-19 pandemic,” said TSA Administrator David Pekoske in a statement. “The speed and degree of change was unmatched in our 19-year history.”