The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recorded a total of 831,789 passengers passing through airport security checkpoints across the United States on Sunday – the first time that passenger numbers have topped 800,000 since March 17 when numbers started to tumble because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The new daily record, however, represents just 31 per cent of the 2.6 million passengers that passed through airport checkpoints on the same day in 2019.
Passenger numbers hit rock bottom on April 14 when just 87,534 passengers were screened by the TSA and as stay at home orders and travel restrictions took hold around the world and across the United States. Since then, there has been a slow and rocky recovery in passenger numbers.
For the last few weeks, passenger numbers have plateaued at around 20 to 25 per cent of pre-COVID levels. The recovery for the airline industry stalled as a surge in Coronavirus infections across a number of states including Florida, California and Texas once again put would-be travellers off flying.
Airline executives are now nervously eyeing forward bookings after Labor Day in the hope that more companies allow their employees to return to the office and embark on business travel. Any recovery, though, is still a long way off what major carriers like American and Delta had been hoping for at this point.
It now seems a foregone conclusion that without more federal support, airlines will begin mass furloughs beginning October 1 when a payroll support package comes to an end. Airline unions have been leading a campaign for a multi-billion dollar six month extension to the PSP but that’s wholly dependent on CARES Act 2 being passed by Congress.
The future of a second CARES Act, however, is looking increasingly uncertain as Democrats and Republicans butt heads over certain provisions in the legislation. A move by President Trump to bypass Congress with a number of Executive orders wouldn’t include an airline payroll support package.
For some airlines, involuntary furloughs won’t be necessary – at least in 2020. Southwest says it has had so many volunteers for an early retirement package that its workforce has already been rightsized. But airlines like American, Delta and United may not be able to avoid furloughs with less than two months to go before current funds evaporate.
The hope of U.S. airlines is that passenger numbers will continue rising to a level that makes their businesses viable again. Progress on a vaccine and what happens to COVID-19 infection rates in the winter will be factors weighing heavily on airline leaders.
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.