Airline Weekly

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U.S. Airport Traffic Drops in January Amid Covid Surge and Slow Vaccine Rollouts

Ruthy Munoz
January 22nd, 2021 at 1:45 PM EST

Photo credit: United Airlines' new central security checkpoint in terminal 7 at Los Angeles International airport, 24 June 2017, 06:02. Edward Russell

Almost 16 million passengers passed through the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoints the first 21 days of the new year, 3 million shy of the total screened over the Christmas and New Year holiday rush and 63% fewer than the same time period year over year as the pandemic continues to ravage air travel demand.

Hopes of the availability of coronavirus vaccines alleviating fears of traveling during the pandemic and leading to a heightened travel recovery have not yet come to fruition. Covid case numbers continue to rise in the U.S. and around the world, as new strains of the virus emerge.

Thursday marked the 17th consecutive day TSA checkpoint volumes were under a million.

A Cowen & Co. report shows TSA throughput for the month of January down 59.8%, versus 62.4% down in December.

January travel trends are historically slow after the year-end holidays. Traffic tends to spike over the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) three-day holiday in the U.S., which this year was January 18. However, this year MLK’s 3.3 million throughput numbers were the fewest screened in recent years. Last year, 8 million passengers went through TSA checkpoints. In addition, increased security measures following the U.S.Capitol riots on January 6 may have dissuaded passengers from traveling so close to the January 20 presidential inauguration.

“Business travel can start to recover as quarantine rules dissipate, but even that is likely to be a 2022 event,” said Cowen airline analyst Helane Becker. “Business travel from large corporations is likely to take longer to recover than from small and medium-sized companies who need to travel to maximize sales.”

Travelers are still concerned about the lack of things to do at their destinations given increased restrictions, but an increase in vaccinations would enable more things to safely reopen Becker said.


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