Passenger numbers in the US are growing again after a lull in the post-Thanksgiving weeks. On Friday, December 18th, and Saturday, December 19th, numbers in the US again topped one million in a day. This is indicative of a Christmas holiday that will be relatively strong for airlines.
The Christmas travel surge
Despite warnings from public health officials, Americans appear ready to take to the skies. The TSA recorded two consecutive days of over one million passengers traveling in a given day. The official data leading up to the weekend was as follows:
- Wednesday, December 16th: 641,966 passengers
- Thursday, December 17th: 846,934 passengers
- Friday, December 18th: 1,066,747 passengers
- Saturday, December 19th: 1,073,563 passengers
These numbers are just the lead-up to what is turning out to be a busy travel period in the United States. In the coming weeks, passengers will most definitely top one million travelers again, especially as it gets closer to Christmas and then New Years’ Day. Passenger numbers will again be high as people head home after the holiday season.
Much of this travel is VFR, that is, visiting friends and relatives. People tend to go home for Christmas and spend time with family. Those who are going on leisure vacations are likely heading to sun or ski destinations. Now is an opportune time for skiing, as seen by JetBlue’s arrival in Telluride this weekend.
The post-Thanksgiving lull
After a strong Thanksgiving, travel numbers slipped back into the sub 900,000 per day mark. Traditionally, there are still healthy traveler numbers between Thanksgiving and Christmas as people start to head out for winter vacations. This year, it appears that most people held off from taking those trips and instead waited until Christmas before boarding a plane.
Christmas is usually another good time of year for airlines. While most people are not flying transatlantic to places in Europe due to the cold weather, they are doing a lot of domestic flights, which is why airlines tend to lay on more domestic flights as the holiday season rolls around.
What comes next for airlines?
The Christmas holiday is a reminder that the first quarter of 2021 will be rough. Spring break, which normally helps airlines in March, will look a lot different this year, and airlines will need to monitor demand to see what happens.
There is a lot of hope for more widespread vaccinations heading into the summer holidays. Airlines want to move beyond the public health emergency, and they hope vaccinations will help do that. Plenty of airlines eagerly began to ship the vaccine around the country after the FDA certified the vaccines for emergency use.
Early 2021 will likely see a lot of the same language from airlines (cash burn is still high, travel demand remains low, restrictions still hinder most people’s ability to travel abroad, business travel is still far below normal, and the crisis is still unprecedented).