The airline recovery continues. As the popular spring break holiday leads many passengers to book flights to vacation hotspots around the country, US passenger numbers have remained steady for the last ten days, with at least one million passengers per day from March 11th through March 20th. The highest mark came on Friday, March 19th, when close to 1.47 million passengers boarded an aircraft – the highest mark in over a year.
Passenger numbers are showing sustained signs of improvement this month. Photo: Getty Images
TSA sees 1m+ passengers per day for 10 consecutive days
From March 11th through March 20th, the TSA recorded the following passenger counts:
March 11th: 1,284,271 passengers
March 12th: 1,357,111 passengers
March 13th: 1,223,057 passengers
March 14th: 1,344,128 passengers
March 15th: 1,263,990 passengers
March 16th: 1,088,816 passengers
March 17th: 1,140,624 passengers
March 18th: 1,407,233 passengers
March 19th: 1,468,516 passengers
March 20th: 1,369,180 passengers
Below is a graph looking at overall passenger throughput from March 1st through March 20th:
March has seen a steady improvement, with well over half of the days in the month seeing over one million passengers flying. Data: TSA | Graph: Simple Flying
The first quarter is usually one of the slower periods for travel. Coming off of a winter holiday surge, January and February are less heavy leisure travel months. However, as schools start to go on spring break in March, leisure passengers ranging from families to college students start to pack their bags and head on vacation.
Here is a comparison of travel looking at data from 2021 compared to the same weekday from 2020 and 2019:
A comparison of travel numbers from March. Data: TSA | Graph: Simple Flying
Spring break is key
As early as January, airlines were already starting to keep their eyes out for spring break. Alaska Airlines was one of those carriers. Asked about spring break travel on the airline’s fourth-quarter earnings call, Ben Minicucci, incoming CEO of Alaska Airlines, stated the following:
“I think you might start seeing people venturing out on spring break. So I think we’re going to be cautious; I think we’re going to be on our toes and react appropriately.”
Airlines have redistributed their capacity and are altering their schedules to cater to leisure travelers. For spring break, that means more flights to places like Florida, Cancun, and Hawaii. Visiting these places is relatively easy for most people in terms of entry requirements.
Families and leisure travelers are making up the bulk of people flying. Photo: Getty Images
Spring break is turning out to be a bigger boon than the winter holiday period. As vaccinations continue to roll out at an accelerated pace and the country sees a continuing decline in case counts, the confidence to travel is there. There is pent-up demand that should continue to be released as the summer rolls around.
An indicator for the summer
If, by the end of March and into April, travel numbers are still in the one million per day range for most of the week, airlines will likely see a fantastic summer. There may be some slippage in numbers heading into April and early May as passengers save up their vacation days for the summer.
US airlines are eagerly reworking their schedules, adding new flights, and preparing for a surge in travel this summer. Photo: Getty Images
However, sustained numbers north of the one million per day mark mean this summer could be a huge one for airlines. For the last year, there has been some talk about post-crisis travel demand. Some anticipated a V-shaped curve. Others anticipated a long slog, but the general consensus that came about in the latter half of 2020 was that it would be a choppy and nonlinear recovery. That is certainly holding for now.
Domestic and short-haul leisure travel are the largest drivers of the current passenger numbers today, and that market will continue to drive travel over the summer. This is why many airlines, including the notoriously conservative Delta Air Lines, are adding new routes to vacation destinations. Spirit Airlines, expecting a surge and is gearing up to use its new aircraft to fuel expansion as travel restrictions ease across the country.
Low-cost carriers like Spirit are expected to benefit greatly from the recovery. Photo: Getty Images
International long-haul travel is not likely to resume in earnest until the second half of 2021 and likely into 2022. This will put some downward pressure on passenger numbers, but the overall figures for summer 2021 are likely to remain high, with the possibility of reaching two million per day.
Are you traveling for spring break? Are you glad to see airline passenger numbers start to recover? Let us know in the comments!
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