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US sets pandemic era high for air travel

The United States has set another record for air travelers since the start of the pandemic, although passenger numbers remain well below 2019 levels.

Nearly 1.67 million people were screened at U.S. airport checkpoints on Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration. It was the highest number controlled since March 12 of last year, when air travel began to drop.

However, it was still 35% lower than the number of airport travelers reported on comparable Sundays in 2019, according to TSA figures.

Airlines began to see an increase in bookings around mid-February, and the TSA has screened at least 1 million people every day since March 11. Vacation destinations have been the most popular – business travel, which is more profitable for airlines, remains significantly reduced.

AP Photo / Nam Y. Huh

In this October 14, 2020 photo, a TSA staff member wears a mask as he walks past flight information screens showing flight status information at Chicago O’Hare International Airport . (AP Photo / Nam Y. Huh)

Government restrictions also severely limit international travel, another lucrative part of the airline business.

Nearly 50 travel industry groups in the US and UK have urged President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lift restrictions on travel between the two countries. The groups said in a letter on Monday that it would be ideal for the two leaders to announce “the full reopening of the US-UK air transport market to US and UK citizens” before the G7 meeting in early June.

Airlines executives are cautiously optimistic about summer travel as more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is safe for those vaccinated to travel to the United States, although they continue to warn against travel to most foreign countries.

Last week, the TSA extended its requirement that airline passengers wear face masks. This rule was supposed to expire on May 11, but TSA extended it until mid-September.

Travelers should expect planes to be fuller. Over the weekend, Delta Air Lines stopped blocking the middle seats. It was the last American airline to limit seats for safety reasons.


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