Friday was 3rd busiest day at US airports during pandemic

Mar 13, 2022

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Without any Thanksgiving turkey, New Year’s ball drop or Fourth of July fireworks on the horizon, the U.S. hit a COVID-19 travel milestone. Friday was the third busiest day for passenger volume at U.S. airports during the pandemic.

According to checkpoint data released daily by TSA, agents screened 2,297,374 passengers on Friday, March 11. The rise in passenger volume comes at a time when the weather is warming, travelers are embarking on spring vacations and COVID-19 numbers are improving. Many parts of the country have seen hospitalizations drop in recent weeks, with numerous localities, states and countries loosening restrictions.

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(Photo by Lyubov Smirnova/Getty)

Nearly a pandemic record

While passenger traffic on Friday fell just short of peak pandemic volume seen on either side of Thanksgiving 2021, it far eclipsed even the heaviest volume during the 2021-22 Christmas and New Year’s holidays about a month later, when much of the country was experiencing a surge of the omicron variant.

Related: U.S. mask mandates going away. What’s next?

Friday’s passenger traffic also topped any single day seen in the summer of 2021, when travel significantly increased nationwide as millions received vaccinations. And as a single day, Friday’s volume was up 62 percent compared to the same day in 2021.

TSA agents and airport officials alike were noticing increased volume even prior to Friday. In North Carolina, for instance, Raleigh-Durham International Airport shared on social media that two of its parking lots were at capacity.

In a social media post Thursday, the TSA’s Pacific region spokesperson pointed to current passenger volume being 86% of 2019 levels, adding “this consistency is further proof that the country is getting back to traveling by air after a near 2-year slowdown.”

Numbers point to continued travel surge

By all accounts, the recent increase in airport passenger traffic is not an anomaly. It’s also not the only sign travel is on the rise.

Last week, vacation rental site VRBO said its data indicates “the rush to book summer vacation homes is trending earlier than ever,” pointing to demand that has “further accelerated” in 2022 even after “the unprecedented early surge” in 2021.

Meanwhile, the World Travel & Tourism Council announced last month, its projections point to travel in 2022 exceeding pre-pandemic levels by 6.2%. The organization anticipates U.S. domestic travel and tourism spending to reach $1.1 trillion for the year, surpassing pre-pandemic levels by more than 11%.

“We expect a welcome release of pent up travel & tourism demand,” president & CEO Julia Simpson said in a statement.

Related: Renting a car in 2022

Bottom line

It’s fair to say Friday was a ‘non-holiday’ pandemic air travel record. Plenty of signs point to it being an indication of what is to come as travelers feel more comfortable venturing out.

As demand surges, TPG recommends those planning a trip consider booking sooner rather than later. It’s also a good idea to take a look at what points and miles you may have accrued over the last couple years, and consider using them if you find a deal that gets you good value for your hard-earned points.

Featured photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA. Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

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