The TSA recorded its first Friday since June where under two million passengers entered a security checkpoint. Though still high, Friday’s 1,990,608 passengers after weeks of consistent two million and above numbers show that the summer surge in travel is starting to fade.
Summer traffic begins to die down
On Friday, August 20th, 1,990,608 passengers went through a TSA security checkpoint. This was the lowest Friday volume since June 4th, 2021, when 1,878,885 passengers were screened. Friday followed Thursday, August 19th, which saw 1,945,026 individuals screened at an airport security checkpoint. August 19th was the lowest Thursday checkpoint volume since June 10th. On Tuesday, August 17th, 1,607,238 individuals passed through a security checkpoint, which was the lowest volume for a Tuesday since June 8th.
Just over the past week, the fall in traffic has been noticeable. On August 13th, the Friday before the 20th, 2,065,379 passengers passed through a security checkpoint, marking a decline of almost 75,000 passengers week-to-week from the 13th to the 20th. On the 12th, 2,045,301 passengers passed through a security checkpoint, marking just over a 100,000 passenger decline week-to-week from the 12th to the 19th.
What is to blame?
Over the last few weeks, airlines have started to warn that they are seeing an impact from the Delta variant, leading to a decline in bookings and close-in cancellations after a largely successful July. While that certainly has a role in the decline, other structural factors generally lead to a decline in air travel as the fall nears.
One is the reopening of schools after the summer holiday. Some of the largest districts in the country have reopened for in-person instruction. This includes the nation’s second-largest public school district in Los Angeles. Other major districts, including Chicago, Miami, and Houston, will go back to school in the coming weeks. The nation’s largest public school system in New York City will return to school in September.
Looking back at 2019, there were also comparable week-to-week declines. TSA data compares passenger numbers based on a weekday basis. In 2019, the TSA recorded the following week-to-week declines on the same Fridays:
- Friday-to-Friday: 68,320 passenger decline
- Thursday-to-Thursday: 69,260 passenger decline
The declines in 2021 are higher than those of 2019, though not by significantly larger margins. The Delta variant is making a difference in bookings and cancelations. Still, it is not causing as precipitous declines in air travel as the industry recorded in the early days of the crisis.
Challenges in the fall
The biggest threat the Delta variant poses to the recovery is with business travel. Some large companies have delayed their return to the office, while others have taken a more cautious reopening approach. The question remains what will happen with the larger corporations that have plenty of travel requirements.
September is typically a heavier business travel month. Airlines had expected business travel to ramp up further in the fall when kids go back to school. One thing working in favor of airlines is the robust vaccination drive and the efficacy of those vaccinations against severe illness or death. Even then, the rise of the variant may lead some companies to reconsider their plans to send customers back on the road.
Even with the dip in passenger numbers, US airlines are still seeing roughly 70-80% of 2019-travel volumes. Once more schools go back into session, universities reopen, and offices follow, then traveler volumes could take an even larger hit if business travelers do not come back onboard at the previously expected volumes.
Have you reconsidered your travel plans due to the Delta variant? Are you planning any trips this fall? Let us know in the comments!