US air travel breaks million flier mark for first time since March 2020

Last updated 22nd October 2020

Sunday 18 October 2020 may have just earned a small place in history. For the first time since March this year, when US air travel restrictions were put in place, TSA (Transportation Security Administration) recorded the screening of over one million passengers in a single day.

Should the US travel industry be cautiously optimistic? Or is this another false summit in long climb back to post-pandemic normality?

In real terms, 1.03 million air passengers screened on 18 October 2020 is down 60% on recorded numbers for the same time last year. That discrepancy aside, TSA clearly still considers the recent rise in figures a positive sign. Crediting the upward shift to a combination of ‘technology improvements and checkpoint modifications’ and the success of their ongoing ‘Stay Healthy. Stay Secure’ campaign.

United Airlines claim risk of in-flight COVID-19 transmission is 0.003%

Airlines are also viewing the mid-October passenger increase as a good sign. But continue to remain focused on a strategy of reducing fear of flying during the global health crisis, with United Airlines even declaring in-flight risk of COVID-19 transmission is almost non-existent. This bold claim is backed by findings from an independent study by the US Department of Defense which tested air-quality in over 300 United Airline planes across a six month period. The study concluded that seated and masked passengers were unlikely to inhale more than 0.003% of contaminated air particles on a full-to-capacity flight.

Which may be positive news for other airlines too, as most have been operating at reduced capacity since March 2020, with empty seats allowing for in-flight social distancing. However, several carriers are still committed to limiting seat sales until 2021. And all major US airlines have now made the wearing of masks mandatory on flights.

A rise in passenger numbers and encouraging data about in-flight infection risk are indications that air travel may be in the early stages of recovery. But if that’s not enough to tempt you to fly in the near future, you might like the sound of less time at the airport. Thanks to shorter security lines and faster screening, TSA are now asking passengers to arrive one hour before departure time for domestic flights instead of the usual two.