Air travel picks up to highest level in nearly one year, per TSA

Jessica Wong

The Transportation Security Administration said air travel hit its highest level in nearly one year. TSA on Friday screened 1,357,111 people, the highest since March 15, 2020, the agency said. TSA has said it expects volume will remain “well below” pre-pandemic levels for most of 2021. See more stories on […]

  • The Transportation Security Administration said air travel hit its highest level in nearly one year.
  • TSA on Friday screened 1,357,111 people, the highest since March 15, 2020, the agency said.
  • TSA has said it expects volume will remain “well below” pre-pandemic levels for most of 2021.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Transportation Security Administration on Friday screened the highest number of airplane passengers in nearly one year as air travel, depressed by the pandemic since early 2020, ticked higher.

A spokesperson for the US agency said Saturday that TSA had screened 1,357,111 people at airport security checkpoints on Friday, the highest number of passengers since March 15, 2020, when 1,519,192 people were screened. 

“If you choose to fly, wear that mask!” Lisa Farbstein, a spokesperson for the agency, said on Twitter.

The figure marks a milestone for air travel rates that plunged since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which has kept people around the world from traveling. The agency screened some 324 million passengers last year, down from 824 million people in 2019, with its lowest-volume travel day on April 14, 2020: just 87,500 passengers screened in the US.

Still, the figures recorded on Friday have yet to reflect a full recovery.

TSA, which oversees security for about 440 federalized airports and as of a year ago had some 50,000 transportation security officers, said in late December that it expects air travel volume “will remain well below pre-pandemic levels through most of 2021.”

The agency has implemented safety protocols during the pandemic, like installing some 6,800 acrylic barriers through various airports’ security checkpoints last year and using technology that reduces the need for officers to directly handle passengers’ belongings. 

Airlines say they expect an eventual rebound in air travel, though some executives across industries say they do not expect that demand for travel will quite return to pre-pandemic levels. 

“Demand will increase sharply at the point where vaccines have been widely distributed and border restrictions are eased, and not prior. Expect that in the second half of 2021, possibly sooner if vaccine distribution improves,” Andrew Nocella, chief commercial officer of United Airlines, said during a call to discuss fourth-quarter earnings in January.

“Pent-up demand” for leisure-related travel will rise following vaccine oll-outs this year, Nocella forecasted, while business travel will “take 18 to 24 months to recover.” 

TSA said last week that its officers at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport are already expecting a surge in travelers for spring break. 

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