Spring break or bust: Millions board flights as pandemic enters second year

Dawn Gilbertson, USA TODAY
·2 min read
Travelers check in for Southwest Airlines flights at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Thursday, March 11.
Travelers check in for Southwest Airlines flights at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Thursday, March 11.

Travelers who haven't flown since the coronavirus pandemic began are in for a surprise if they're expecting empty airports and planes when they return.

Passengers packed planes during the Thanksgiving and year-end holiday rushes despite advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid travel and are now doing so in greater numbers for spring break.

The latest evidence arrived over the weekend from the Transportation Security Administration, which saw 1-million-plus travelers pass through its checkpoints on four days in a row as travelers headed out on vacations:

  • Sunday: 1.34 million

  • Saturday: 1.22 million

  • Friday: 1.35 million

  • Thursday: 1.28 million

With half the month to go, March is shaping up to be a strong one for airlines, with passenger counts topping 1 million on nine days so far.

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Friday's numbers are the highest of the year, surpassing the Sunday after New Year's when 1,327,289 passengers were screened. The totals fell below 90,000 in April 2020 in the early days of the pandemic and didn't top 1 million again until October.

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Friday's figures were down 4% from the same day in 2019 when more than 2.5 million people passed through the TSA checkpoints. On the same day in 2020, passenger counts neared 1.8 million as travel hadn't come to a halt yet.

Traveler optimism is rising as more Americans are vaccinated and case counts decline.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Spring break flights: Airline travel rebounds amid COVID pandemic