On Sept. 4, 968,673 people passed through TSA checkpoints across the country.

By Cailey Rizzo
September 09, 2020
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After the COVID-19 lockdown, travelers are slowly starting to return to airports — although the numbers are still nowhere near pre-pandemic levels.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported a record-high number of passengers since the coronavirus pandemic shut down travel earlier this year. On the Friday before Labor Day, Sept. 4, 968,673 people passed through TSA checkpoints across the country. It was the first time since mid-March that the TSA screened more than 900,000 travelers in one single day. But that’s still nowhere near the 2.2 million passengers that the TSA had processed exactly one year earlier.

A report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), released Tuesday, revealed that there were 73 percent fewer airline passengers in July 2020 than in July 2019. Although that number may seem grim — it’s the smallest year-to-date drop since April.

Passenger numbers began to plummet in March, with a 51 percent year-to-date decrease that month, as the worldwide impact of COVID-19 lead to a tremendous decrease in air travel. By April, the numbers had fallen 96 percent. At its absolute lowest point this year, on April 14, the TSA only saw 87,500 passengers pass through checkpoints.

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Stringer via Getty

Airlines reported a total of 21.4 million passengers in July, the third consecutive month that passenger numbers have grown. In June, that number had only been 16.5 million. And back in April, the numbers dropped to an all-time low of only 3 million passengers. It was the lowest number since the BTS records began in 1974. The previous low was 14.6 million passengers in February 1975.

July was also the first month since the pandemic that U.S. airlines had carried more than one million passengers to international destinations. The world is starting to reopen for tourism, with many countries implementing new tourism plans, like encouraging longer stays or requiring COVID-19 testing upon arrival. Even within the U.S., restrictions may require travelers to quarantine when crossing state lines.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. When in a new city, she's usually out to discover under-the-radar art, culture, and secondhand stores. No matter her location, you can find her on Twitter, on Instagram or at caileyrizzo.com.