The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has reported its highest number of daily passenger numbers passing through airport security checkpoints in over six weeks prompting speculation that an early recovery for air travel might be on the horizon. Data from the federal agency reveals that 234,928 passengers passed throughout security checkpoints in airports across the United States on Thursday.
While that’s the highest number of passengers to have been processed by the TSA since March 25, it’s still less than 10 per cent of the numbers that went through checkpoints on the same day in 2019. On May 6, the agency reported a throughput of just 140,409 passengers – a mere 6.18 per cent of the numbers processed on the same day last year.
Although we know from individual airline data that passenger demand has slumped to all-time lows because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the TSA’s statistics provide insight on both how much demand has dropped across the entire United States and whether there are possibly green shoots of a recovery showing already.
And while passenger numbers on any given day can vary by up to 50 or more thousand, the percentage comparison reveals that passenger numbers are slowly starting to creep up. And while there have been calls for air travel to be limited to essential workers only, the TSA data would suggest that’s no longer the case.
In March, the Association of Flight Attendants had put out a call for a ban on leisure travel but as States start to lift stay at home orders, it appears that the American people are once again finding the confidence to take to the sky.
Whether or not flying is safe or wise in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, remains subject to debate. Last week, the TSA started to mandate the compulsory wearing of face masks for its front line security agents and has started to implement screening measures that limit contact between passengers and agents as much as possible.
Airlines have also introduced compulsory face mask rules but there remains controversy over a decision by American, Delta and United Airlines not to enforce the rules onboard their aircraft if a passenger refuses to comply. Some passengers who have chosen to fly have also voiced their disappointment at the lack of social distancing on an increasing number of full flights.
The numbers, though, are still dire for airline economics and most major airlines are forecasting significant losses for the year ahead. Yesterday, Delta revealed that it could have a surplus of 7,000 pilots come the Fall and predicted a long, hard recovery with passenger number unlikely to return to pre-Corona levels for 2-3 years.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.