Air travel has risen in recent weeks to levels last seen before the pandemic, as the holiday season spurred people to brave airports and airplanes to be with families in defiance of government recommendations during a worsening pandemic.
More than 3.5 million people traveled through security checkpoints from Saturday to Monday, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration. That’s the most in a three-day period since mid-March. And almost 1.3 million people traveled on Sunday alone, the highest single-day figure since the pandemic took hold in the U.S.
But industry watchers say the figures do not mean Americans are comfortable flying again. Instead, the numbers represent a depressed version of the usual holiday travel surge that will vanish as the industry heads into its usual early-year swoon.
“There’s an obvious seasonal interest in travel that has manifested this year, but at a much lower volume,” Robert Mann, airline industry analyst and consultant at R.W. Mann & Company said. “The unfortunate factor is that once we get past January 6th, we’ll go back to 600,000 passengers a day.”
Air travel collapsed in March as fears of Covid-19 and stay-at-home orders led passengers to avoid airports and companies to curb business travel. On one day in mid-April, fewer than 90,000 passengers went to airports, TSA data show.