US sets pandemic-era high for air travel, over 1.6 million

Airlines begin to bounce back: TSA screens post-pandemic high of 1.67million passengers in one day – but still falls 35% below 2019 numbers

  • Some 1.67 million Americans screened at US airport checkpoints on Sunday 
  • It’s the highest number of screened passengers since March 12, 2020 
  • But the figure is still 35% below the first Sunday of May in 2019, TSA said 
  • TSA has been screening at least 1 million travelers every day since March 11 

By Ariel Zilber For and Agencies

Published: 15:56, 3 May 2021 | Updated: 23:01, 3 May 2021

The United States set another record for the number of air travelers since the pandemic set in, although passenger numbers remain far below 2019 levels.

Nearly 1.67 million people were screened at U.S. airport checkpoints on Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration. 

That was the highest number screened since March 12 of last year when air travel began to plummet.

However, it was still 35 per cent below the number of airport travelers reported on the comparable Sunday in 2019, according to TSA figures.

Flight attendants wearing protective masks walk through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta on April 7. Airlines started to see an increase in bookings around mid-February, and the TSA has screened at least 1 million people every day since March 11 

Airlines started to see an increase in bookings around mid-February, and the TSA has screened at least 1 million people every day since March 11. 

Vacation destinations have been most popular – business travel, which is more profitable for airlines, remains drastically reduced.

Government restrictions are also sharply limiting international travel, another lucrative piece of the airline business.

Nearly 50 US and UK travel-industry groups urged President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lift restrictions on travel between the two countries.

The groups said in a letter Monday that it would be ideal if the two leaders would announce ‘the full reopening of the US-UK air travel market for both US and UK citizens’ before the G7 meeting in early June.

The United States since March 2020 has barred nearly all non-US citizens who have recently been in the UK from the United States.

‘The return of Transatlantic flying would not only have a significantly positive impact on our respective economies but will also reunite those who have been separated from their loved ones for over a year,’ said the letter, signed by the US Chamber of Commerce, Airlines for America, Global Business Travel Association, Air Line Pilots Association, Virgin Atlantic, Association of UK Airlines, Aerospace Industries Association and others.

‘Safely reopening borders between the US and UK is essential for both countries’ economic recovery from COVID-19.’

India, Brazil, China, Iran, South Africa, Ireland and 26 other countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders are also covered by the severe travel restrictions that prevent most non-US citizens from entering the United States if they have been within one of those countries within the last 14 days.

In January, Biden reversed a decision made by President Donald Trump to rescind the entry bans on the UK and other European countries.

Nearly all of Europe still bans most US travelers from visiting, while Britain allows American visits but requires a 10-day quarantine upon arrival and two COVID-19 tests. 

On Monday, the European Union’s executive recommended easing COVID-19 travel restrictions next month to let foreign travelers from more countries enter the EU, hoping to boost the stricken tourism industry this summer.

One question remains whether the US government will participate in helping Americans establish to foreign governments that they have been fully vaccinated in order to travel.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki has said ‘there will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.’ 

Airline executives are cautiously optimistic about summer travel as more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is safe for vaccinated people to travel within the United States, although it continues to warn against travel to most foreign countries.

Last week, the TSA extended its requirement that airline passengers wear face masks. 

That rule was set to expire May 11, but TSA extended it through mid-September.

Travelers should expect planes to be more full. 

Over the weekend, Delta Air Lines stopped blocking off middle seats.

It was the last US airline to limit seating as a safety precaution.