The total weekly traveler count along with the weekly average daily travel count hit a new high last week as the most amount of total travelers in a week since before the COVID crisis was recorded. Yet, despite progress, travel’s immediate future remains grim.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been providing a daily traveler count in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis which has gutted the travel industry. This count is actually the number of people screened at a TSA checkpoint, but is a good indicator of where the travel industry is, was, and is heading.
The industry experienced an unfathomable low when, on April 14, 2020 a mere 87,534 people were screened at TSA checkpoints. This number represented a 96% drop in passengers. The same week recorded a daily average of travelers screened of 95,674 and a weekly total of 669,718 passengers.
This marked the travel low point of the crisis and since then travel has been steadily climbing each week (see figure below).
However, travel has largely settled into what appears to be a new normal average of slightly over 700,000 daily passengers and 5m weekly passengers over the last 8 weeks. Indeed, travel has flattened out as business travel, in particular, remains way off it’s normal marks.
Last week, however, marked a new high in both daily average passengers screened and the weekly total. In fact, in what is now our 24th week since the record lows, the daily average passengers screened climbed to a new high of 752,032 and the weekly total crept up to 5,264,226 (see figure below). The last highs were around the Labor Day weekend (a notoriously high travel day in years past) where 732,012 daily passengers and 5,124,083 for the week were screened.
What’s noteworthy about this new high is that no single day in the week set a new individual high. In other words, the overall daily passengers is starting to climb – a little and the results were not skewed by an unusually high single day (like the Labor Day holiday).
Still, the total amount of US travelers is shockingly lower than years past. In fact, daily travelers are still ~65% or so down from prior year levels. Ouch.
Indeed, the travel industry as a whole remains highly impaired. Just last week, many airlines began the process of actually eliminating unnecessary staff as no additional federal funding deals were announced.
While some leisure travel has returned, it’s business travel that appears to still largely be nonexistent. What does the future hold for business travel and the travel industry as a whole? The specifics are anybody’s guess, but it could take years for travel to return to “normal” – if ever and many airlines and travel providers are settling in for a long cold winter.
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