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As millions of Americans are hitting the roads/the skies today to be with their families for Thanksgiving, airports across the country are bracing for what will likely be the busiest days since the pandemic disrupted air travel in March 2020. According to AAA’s holiday travel forecast, air travel will be close to pre-pandemic levels this holiday weekend, which is in line with the general trend according to TSA figures.
Following an abysmal 2020, where passengers remained hesitant to return to the skies, flight traffic picked up noticeably in the second quarter of 2021, as the vaccine rollout proceeded rapidly. According to data from the Transport Security Administration, passenger throughput at U.S. airports started climbing steadily, with TSA safety checks exceeding two million in a single day for the first time since the pandemic hit on June 11. Throughout the busy summer season, the daily average hovered around the two million mark, trailing 2019 passenger numbers by roughly 500,000 a day on average. By now, that gap has narrowed to around 300,000 and it’ll be interesting to see how close holiday travel volumes come to pre-pandemic levels.
Prior to the pandemic, daily passenger volumes of 2+ million were the norm rather than the exception. At the onset of the pandemic, daily passenger throughput fell as low as 100,000 in April 2020, before slowly climbing back to its current level. As of November 22, the TSA performed an average of 1.54 million safety checks per day this year, compared to 900,000 during the same period of last year and 2.31 million in 2019.
This chart shows the seven-day average of travelers passing through TSA checkpoints at U.S. airports.