The TSA screened more than 2 million flyers for the first time since March 2020
More than 2 million passengers passed through airport security checkpoints on Friday, marking a new milestone as the U.S. travel industry continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it screened 2,028,961 travelers, the highest number since Sunday, March 8, when 2,119,867 passed through checkpoints at U.S. airports.
"The growing number of travelers demonstrates this country’s resilience and the high level of confidence in COVID-19 countermeasures, to include ready access to vaccines," Darby LaJoye, the acting head of the TSA, said in a statement.
The milestone was largely expected to come at either end of the typically busy Memorial Day weekend travel period, the first major holiday weekend since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance saying that vaccinated Americans could safely remove masks and socialize in indoor and outdoor settings (although masks are still required when taking public transportation, including commercial flights). The CDC had previously said that vaccinated Americans could travel domestically "at low risk" to themselves.
However, passenger numbers fell just shy of the 2 million mark, with the TSA reporting 1.96 million travelers on March 28, the Friday of the holiday weekend, and 1.9 million that Monday.
Domestic travel demand has largely recovered to 2019 levels, driven heavily by quarantine-weary vacationers and travelers visiting friends and relatives.
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Although business travel and long-haul international remain depressed, airline executives have said that there are signs of business travel beginning to resume, and several European countries have reopened to vaccinated travelers, including Italy and Spain, leading to a surge in bookings.
It is not clear whether the daily number of travelers can stay above 2 million without business and international travel. For comparison, 2019 saw normal volumes of 2.1 million through nearly 2.7 million on an average day. Friday's passenger numbers were 26% below the same day in 2019.
However, the milestone suggests that the travel resurgence is, in fact, underway, and a busy summer travel season lies ahead.