For months, travel was on a slow-yet-sure rebound after hitting rock-bottom this spring. Rounding into the typically busy Labor Day Weekend, more travelers are set to hit the skies in the U.S. than the nation has seen in months. But can that continue?
More than 877,000 travelers moved through U.S. airports on Thursday, Sept. 3 as Labor Day travel kicked off, according to data from the TSA. That’s the highest number recorded since March 17, when travel crashed as concerns about coronavirus hit their peak.
Yet it’s still down by nearly 60 percent from the norm. And with coronavirus case counts still on the rise across much of the nation, U.S. airlines have said they expect the slow-but-steady growth in travel to drop off after the long holiday weekend.
Look at this interactive graphic we put together comparing TSA travel data from 2020 to 2019, and you’ll see just how far travel has to go.
Back in May, Delta CFO Paul Jacobson warned that the recovery in travel was shaky at best. And after a strong June, many airlines reported ticket sales had slipped. Airline industry experts don’t expect travel to return to 2019 levels until 2024.
“We really can’t afford to have false starts,” Jacobson said during an airline analyst conference.
The rebound in travel is a work in progress. Labor Day weekend is almost certain to set new records for travel during the pandemic. But until the country (and the rest of the world) get a handle on COVID-19, the path to recovery will be rocky.