Here's How Many Passengers Flew on U.S. Airlines in 2021
More than 670 million people flew on airlines in the United States last year, a significant increase from 2020 but not quite reaching pre-pandemic levels.
In total, 670.4 million passengers flew on U.S. carriers in 2021, representing an 83% increase from 2020, but still 245.9 million fewer people than flew in 2019, or about a 27% decrease, Reuters reported, citing the Transportation Department. That trend has continued in the first weeks of 2022 with industry trade group Airlines for America telling the wire service that airline traffic was down by about 25% in late January.
Where people travel has also changed with more people choosing domestic flights over international flights. In 2019, Reuters noted domestic trips accounted for 88% of all passengers, while domestic flights accounted for 91% of all trips in 2021.
Business travel has also seen a huge decrease in demand and remains down about 51% compared to pre-pandemic levels.
While the recovery has been slow to get back to 2019 levels, the Transportation Security Administration did screen more than 10 million passengers on more than one holiday weekend in 2021, including the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving.
Travel numbers were also significantly better than 2020 when air passenger travel in the U.S. fell to the lowest levels since 1984, according to Reuters.
But there's hope on the horizon. The wire service reported that American Airlines and United Airlines both said recovery will likely resume in March after being impacted by the omicron variant. And experts have told Travel Leisure that flight prices are predicted to increase through the first half of 2022 with the steepest single-month increase expected in March — just in time for spring break.
Even as passenger traffic begins to reach pre-coronavirus levels, some pandemic-era practices remain in place like mask wearing on planes, which has been extended until at least March 18 and carrying around hand sanitizer.
Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.