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US Air Travel Hits Record High Over Mother’s Day Weekend

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The Mother’s Day weekend saw air travel in the United States hit a pandemic-era high, with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reporting record passenger numbers at airports across the country. On Sunday May 9th more than 1.7 million passengers passed through airport checkpoints, the highest numbers seen since the coronavirus pandemic crushed both domestic and international travel in March last year.

Americans take to the skies for Mother’s Day

The trend began on Friday, when airline passenger numbers soared to 1.64 million and marked a pandemic-era record. On Sunday, an additional 4500 passengers passed through TSA checkpoints, bringing the record up to 1.7 million.

Delta plane take off

A change in airline protocols is helping to boost passenger numbers, with blocked seats now phased out on all commercial airlines. The restrictions were introduced to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the United States, though increased vaccination rates and lower daily positive case numbers have given airlines the confidence to increase capacity. The trend is expected to continue into the summer, with domestic airlines on-track to operate at 80% of pre-pandemic capacity.

travelers LAX airport masks

Domestic travel on the rise

While the trend is a positive step forward for the air travel industry, the numbers don’t quite meet pre-pandemic levels. Compared to the same Sunday two years ago, this Mother’s Day saw a 29% drop in air passenger traffic. That said, the climb does mark a significant jump from April 2020, when air travel hit an all-time low.

airline attended in mask on plane

US airlines eye international routes

As well as domestic travel, the latest figures from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) suggest global trips are on the rise. While the airline industry is expecting net losses of US$47.7 billion in 2021, the figure is a significant improvement on the estimated net industry loss of $126.4 billion seen in 2020.

woman-mask-plane

With almost 60% of Americans now vaccinated with at least one dose, travelers from the United States are highly regarded among countries looking to reopen to international tourists. It’s now easier than ever to escape to sun-drenched destinations like the Bahamas and Belize, with both countries waiving restrictions for travelers with proof of vaccination. Mexico is open for business, with no testing or vaccination requirements necessary. Guatemala is another destination welcoming vaccinated Americans, with evidence of a Covid-19 vaccine completed at least two weeks before arrival securing you entry into the Central American country.

Southwest Plane

Vaccine “verification” gains momentum

Further afield, European countries like France, Greece and Croatia and beginning to welcome vaccinated travelers, or those willing to present a negative COVID-19 test at the border. In response, airlines such as United and Delta have started to add more European itineraries to their flight plans, anticipating a spike in international travel. 

Bryan Del Monte, President of US-based consultancy The Aviation Agency, says vaccinations are the key to reviving both the domestic and international air travel industries. He says that while the idea of vaccine passports has been popularized, switching the word “passport” to “verification” could help win over American travelers.

US traveler at airport wearing mask

“Words matter because they frame ideas and how people think about them. People say ‘passport’ and they envision people being denied going to the movies or the rest because of a vaccine identity card,” explains Del Monte. “However, this idea of asking people if they’re vaccinated, and how can they prove it, isn’t some radical thing. We do it all the time. We have medical records sent to places for a reason. We need to know who has been vaccinated in order to better contain the virus.

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