Yeah, that’s a no. While crossing the 1 million daily passenger mark on 10/18 is a meaningful threshold the number of daily travelers is still ~60% off from last year same day totals. That said, something *is* happening as we’ve now recorded four straight weeks of meaningful travel growth. The industry appears to have broken through another threshold after stalling out for a month or two. That’s a good sign. But, what comes next?
Figure 1, above, shows the weekly average of daily passengers screened and figure 2, below, shows the weekly total of passengers screened. Readers will notice that Week 23 appears to be the start of a new phase in the travel recovery where, after many weeks of travel mostly remaining flat it appears to have pushed through the next threshold. In fact, since week 12 of the recovery travel has been largely sputtering around in the 600k to 800k range, with a few exceptions (like Labor Day).
What’s driving this sudden surge in air traffic?
It’s probably a combination of many things:
- Columbus Day weekend saw an increased traffic
- Travelers are getting more comfortable traveling and feeling safer
- Studies suggest travelers who wear face masks have a very low chance of contracting COVID (this gives folks confidence)
- Anecdotally, some increased business travel is occurring (I say anecdotally because I can only comment on my known universe and I know that some of my fellow colleagues are starting to travel for work again…a little bit. But a little bit is more than none.
- Airfare deals are still pretty good and clearly luring some travelers off their couch
- I suspect many people are kinda “done” with staying home, and covid, and not traveling, and pretty much all of 2020. They are just done.
How long can this new phase of growth continue?
In the weeks following the historic lows of during the early days of the COVID lockdown travel shot back up pretty steadily week over week. Then it plateaued and seemed to settle into a new normal as it osicllated between ~500k and ~700k daily passengers for many weeks. Travel seemed stuck in this new normal and with the winter months on the horizon it was expected to get worse.
How much longer can this new phase of growth continue? It’s hard to say. We are about to enter the winter months which typically result in less travel (except for the holidays themselves, of course). Cold and Flu seasons is coming and all the naysayers predict an increase in COVID cases over the winter.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see travel fall back a bit, only to be bolstered by the previously mentioned trends – particularly folks who are traveling to get out of the cold by heading south to Florida and other warmer climes. The lure of warmth + cheap airfare may be able to sustain this new level of travel, but my gut tells me probably not.
What I like about this new trend is big climbs in the lows. If you look at Figure 3, below, you will note that lows have started to get a lot lower. This is a good sign, IMO. Still, I suspect we are in for a long dark winter.
A vaccine would help (because it would jumpstart business travel)
What the travel industry really needs is for business travel to fire back up in a meaningful way. Without business travel the airline industry and all its associated travel providers will never return to normal. A vaccine will help give companies confidence to get their staff on the road again (and employees confidence to get on the road).
Remote work has negated the need for some business travel, but unlike some prognosticators who suggest remote work portends the death of business travel, we have a more pragmatic view: business travel will be different, but not dead. Smaller, most likely, but still critically important.
How about you? Are confident to travel again?
I’ve hit the air 3 times since the pandemic really hit us here in the States. I’ve felt relatively safe each time. I even sat next to someone who was sick on the plane. We were both wearing masks and I didn’t get sick. This has only given me more confidence that air travel is safer than we think. I am already looking at future trips – including leisure and business.
How about you? Are you getting out? Did you stop? Planning your next trip? Drop us a comment below.