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U.S. Airline Passenger Numbers Top 1 Million in a Single Day for the First Time Since March 16

U.S. Airline Passenger Numbers Top 1 Million in a Single Day for the First Time Since March 16

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 1,031,505 passengers at airport security checkpoints across the United States on Sunday – the first time the number of passengers topped one million since March 16 when 1,257,823 passed through the nation’s airports. The number of passengers screened by the TSA is a key measure of how well the U.S. airline industry is recovering amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

The low point for daily passenger numbers was recorded on April 16 when the TSA screened just 87,534 in a 24 hour period. Passenger numbers plunged as stay at home orders and various travel restrictions forced airlines to ground flights. Since that low point in April, passenger numbers have been slowly climbing upwards but remain down at least 40 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.

While there are now tangible signs of a recovery in the demand for air travel, major U.S airlines remain frustrated at the speed with which passengers are returning to the sky despite continued efforts to demonstrate the safety of getting on a plane during the Corona crisis.

Last week, United Airlines posted a $1.8 billion net loss in the third quarter and while the Chicago-based airline has managed to trim back losses, the carrier continues to lose around $25 million every single day. Delta Air Lines has lost as much as $11 billion through the pandemic and is now recording a daily cash burn of around $18 million.

To date, the recovery has largely been driven by leisure travellers who have been tempted by heavily discounted airfares. Aviation unions caution against measuring the recovery just in terms of passenger numbers because airlines are still losing money on rock bottom pricing.

Since October 1, at least 45,000 airline workers have found themselves involuntarily furloughed after a federal payroll support program came to an end. Lawmakers continue to wrangle over a wider stimulus bill that could extend payroll support through to the end of March 2021.

By that point, airlines are desperately hoping that a corner will have been turned in the Corona pandemic. Hope is being pinned on effective vaccines, the first of which could be approved by regulators by the end of this year. Winter in the northern hemisphere is, however, likely to be incredibly difficult for airlines as the virus again surges in Europe and North America.

As United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby said last week when he quoted Winston Churchill: “This is the end of the beginning.”

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