US Screens 1.63 Million Passengers At Airports, Highest Since March 2020

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File photograph of a Boeing 737 MAX in American Airlines livery. Source: aviation_newyork

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Monday said it screened 1.63 million passengers on May 3, 2021 at US airports, the highest number since March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic slashed travel demand.

The number of US air travellers is still about 35% lower than the same date in 2019, down about 1 million travellers, the TSA said.

US Airlines Adding Flights

By comparison, just 1,70,000 people were screened at US airports on the same day in May 2020. US airlines have been adding more flights, anticipating rising summer travel demand.

Last month, United Airlines (UAL.O) said it was adding more than 480 daily flights to its U.S. schedule in June to meet summer travel demand that is expected to rise as more people receive COVID-19 vaccines.

The company said it plans to fly 67% of its domestic schedule and 60% of its overall schedule compared with June 2019.

American Airlines (AAL.O) said in April it expects to fly more than 90% of its domestic seat capacity compared with summer 2019 and 80% of its international seat capacity compared with 2019, and it will operate more than 150 new routes this summer.

Airlines are seeing an uptick in bookings as accelerated vaccination efforts encourage leisure travel with friends and family after months of pandemic-linked restrictions.

The Los Angeles Business Journal said that passenger traffic at local airports surged in March, hitting the highest level since the pandemic began while air cargo continued to soar with tonnage at or near record highs.

The four airports serving Los Angeles County — Los Angeles International, Ontario International, Hollywood Burbank and Long Beach — had 3.1 million passengers go through their gates in March, up 65% from February.

But that’s still down 63% from the 8.5 million passengers that went through the four airports in March 2019, a year before the pandemic hit, showing how far there is to go before air travel returns to pre-COVID levels.

It was also down 17% from the number of passengers in March of last year, when the pandemic brought air travel to a near total halt by the third week of the month.

On the air-cargo side, though, tonnage has not only recovered from the pandemic hit, but has topped pre-COVID levels to reach record territory.

The four airports handled nearly 3,49,000 tons of cargo in March, up 32% from March 2020 and up 24% from March 2019.

At LAX, the story continues to be the divergent performance of domestic and international travel. Domestic passenger traffic was down 5.6% to 2.27 million in March compared to the same month last year. Compared with March 2019, it was down 57.4%.

International Traffic Down

International traffic was down 60.9% in March to 346,500, compared with March 2020. Compared to March 2019, international passenger counts plunged 83.1%

“We are still at less than 50% in passenger traffic versus the same time in 2019, and international travel continues to significantly lag behind domestic gains,” LAWA Chief Executive Justin Erbacci said.

But Mr. Erbacci pointed to further gains in passenger traffic in April.

According to boarding data from the Transportation Security Administration, total aircraft boardings averaged about 50,000 daily between April 1 and April 25, down about 55% from April 2019.

(The TSA does not track arriving passengers, so average daily passenger volume at LAX for the first 25 days of April was roughly twice that 50,000 level.)

“The spring travel season has brought with it a slow but steady increase in passenger traffic at LAX, with nine of the 10 busiest days of the past year so far recorded over the past three weeks,” Mr. Erbacci said. “And the airlines continue to add capacity into the summer.”

Ontario Posts Gains

Turning to the other local airports, Ontario has fared the best on the passenger front during the pandemic, and March was no exception. Ontario was the only local airport to post a gain in passengers between March of last year and March of this year, up 11% to nearly 2,60,000.

Passenger counts at the airport were off about 40% from March 2019, making Ontario the only airport to have recovered more than halfway back to pre-pandemic levels.


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