Yesterday was the busiest day at U.S. airports in more than a month, in terms of how many people passed thru TSA airport security. Yes, things are looking up…like it’s 1956.
It’s a chilling figure, isn’t it? After the 9/11 attacks, passenger traffic dropped 10-15%. In the COVID-19 era, passenger traffic has dropped 94% and may remain depressed for months to come. In fact, airlines are planning on it. During United’s Q1 Earnings call this morning, incoming CEO Scott Kirby said United is predicting virtually zero demand through the rest of the year (while hoping for a rebound).
So while news this week that passenger traffic averaged above 120,000 per day for the first time in a month is heartening on some level, travel this week only reached 1956 levels (from 1954 levels the previous week). The 154,695 passengers who passed through a security screening checkpoint yesterday is just 6% of the 2.5 million who did the same thing exactly one year ago.
Think about that regression. Think about the ripple effects beyond airline employees. The restaurants, bars, newsstands, and gifts shops in airport terminals. The porters, Uber drivers, taxi drivers. Catering, fuel, and custodians. The ripple effects are sobering.
And what explains this slight rise in traffic? Are people tried of being cooped up? Yes, some states have begun to loosen isolation orders, but no one has recommended leisure travel resume. Or maybe people think that the masks and social distancing polices of airlines suddenly make air travel safer?
It’s interesting to watch these trends like the TSA’s daily checkpoint count, but this remains such a sad reality. For all I like to fault airlines for their cutbacks and customer-unfriendly moves, numbers like this really put such complaints into perspective. We’re living in a new world…a world in which a massive shock to the system has been inflicted. That should not stop us from calling out hypocrisy, but it should help us to better understand why airlines are acting out of desperation.