Millions of people traveled for the holidays, despite worsening pandemic and pleas from the CDC

Jan 5, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

The holiday season is officially over, but we’re just getting the final numbers of how many people traveled for Christmas and the new year. And it could be weeks before we understand the ramifications of this upswing in travel.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

On Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, a new pandemic-era record was set when 1,327,289 people were screened at airport security checkpoints across the country. It’s the highest volume the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has seen since March 15, 2020, when 1,519,192 people were screened — and easily surpassed the number of people who passed through TSA checkpoints the Sunday following Thanksgiving.

And even though many people returned to school and work on Monday, people are still clearly returning home from their holiday trips. On Monday, Jan. 4, TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said 1,080,346 people passed through national security checkpoints, marking the seventh of the last 10 days to exceed 1 million travelers.    

About 1.19 million people passed through TSA checkpoints on Dec. 23, but the numbers predictably tapered off on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as travelers made it to their holiday destinations. Then, the numbers spiked again: 1.13 million on Saturday, Dec. 26; 1.28 million on Dec. 27; then 1.11 million on Dec. 28; 1.02 on Dec. 29 and up to 1.16 on Dec. 30, before dropping below 1 million again on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Following the holiday, on Jan. 2, 2021, 1.19 million people passed through national airport security checkpoints.

The numbers surpassed many projections. AAA, for example, predicted that just 2.94 million travelers would fly between Dec. 23, 2020, and Jan. 3, 2021.

Of course, these numbers are nowhere near 2019 levels. This time last year, well over 2 million people were being screened almost daily at TSA checkpoints around the U.S.

Related: Flying over the holidays? Here are 12 things you need to know before taking off

But the consistently high volume of travelers is still concerning when you consider that COVID-19 cases are continuing to surge across the country, and an even more contagious strain is triggering lockdowns and flight cancellations in Europe. December was the deadliest month in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic, The Atlantic reported.

And the coming days and weeks will be a strong indicator of whether people (many of whom may have traveled for the first time since the onset of the pandemic during the holidays) will continue flying — and whether new COVID-19 cases will continue to follow the upward trajectory of TSA screenings.

Feature photo of crowds at Washington Reagan National Airport (DCA) on Dec. 18, 2020, by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images.

The All-New United Quest℠ Card

WELCOME OFFER: Up to 100,000 bonus miles


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X miles on United® purchases

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80K bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, an additional 20K bonus miles after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months
  • $250 Annual Fee
  • Earn 3X miles on United® purchases, 2X miles at restaurants, on select streaming services & all other travel, 1X on all other purchases
  • Earn 3X miles on United Airlines purchases
  • Earn 2X miles at restaurants and on select streaming services
  • Earn 2X miles on all other travel
  • Earn 1X mile on all other purchases
  • Each year, receive a $125 credit on United® purchases and two 5k-mile anniversary award flight credits. Terms apply.
Regular APR
16.49% to 23.49% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent, Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.