This summer of 2021, there has been a dramatic uptick in air travel and passenger demand in the aviation industry. Airports are much busier than they initially were at the beginning of the pandemic, and airlines are receiving increasingly more travelers. Parking lots at the airport are filling up with cars, and lines inside the airport are becoming congested again. The scene at the airport is starting to resemble pre-pandemic conditions, a stark contrast to the empty and desolate terminals in mid-2020. Masks-wearing mandates and safety measures are still being implemented however. Even with the pandemic still present throughout the world, air travel has unexpectedly returned to almost normal conditions. In this article, we will be explaining how and why travel demand has increased substantially this summer.
Earlier this year during Spring Break in March, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened over 1 million people entering an airport each day for 18 days in a row. These screenings marked the highest levels of passenger demand since March 15th of 2020, when the pandemic had just begun. The number of travelers recorded each day in this 18-day period was a significant improvement from the passenger demand recorded during the beginning of the pandemic, when there were less than or around 100,000 people being screened at airports each day. The Spring Break screenings were still however largely below the number of screenings on comparable days in 2019. During this period in March, American Airlines also reported that the amount of bookings for domestic flights were about 80-90% of what it had been in 2019 during the same period; American Airlines’ bookings increased 150-400% from earlier months in this time period. However in contrast to domestic flights, travel demand for international flights still remained at a relatively low rate due to travel restrictions and different pandemic severities across the globe. Since these statistics were recorded in Spring, travel demand is expected to recover even further this summer break with increasingly more passengers and activity at the airport. This can already be seen happening, as well over 1 million passengers have been screened through TSA each day already in May so far.
Why Travel is Proliferating?
There are several reasons why people have been returning to travel so rapidly recently. One of the most influential factors is the COVID-19 vaccine. With thousands of people getting the vaccine and becoming immune to the virus, many people are now not as afraid of the virus as they originally were. Another strong reason is how contracting COVID-19 on planes is highly unlikely, as reported by several news sources. These two reasons greatly assuage people’s fear of getting the virus and make them much more confident to fly. The majority of travelers are now significantly less afraid of catching the virus when flying, and as a result, travel demand is skyrocketing. Even if some people are still afraid of the virus, fatigue from being cooped up inside houses during quarantine for over a year has made people eager to travel again and get outside of their houses. The urge to go on a vacation and have a break from being trapped inside houses has made lots of people return to travelling. This reason along with the lessened fear of catching the virus has caused air travel to recover heavily in the past few months.
With millions of people out of quarantine and crowded at airports and travel destinations, there could be several health consequences to the travelers, even though the pandemic has been greatly mitigated. Hundreds of planes being ungrounded and brought back to service, and middle seats have been unblocked on all major airlines. With travel demand up and middle seats unblocked, hundreds of people are huddled together in a compact space if a plane is full. Although the regular variant of COVID-19 is highly difficult to contract on planes, there could be an exception with some mutants, such as the new strain from India. The travelers’ protection, the COVID-19 vaccine, has also been shown to not be as effective against the mutated variant as they are against the normal virus. This could mean that if the virus spreads to the United States amid this high point of travel demand, many people could be infected, and a new wave of the pandemic could be sparked in the country.
Overall, air travel has increased so aggressively in these past few months that domestic travel demand has almost reached the levels it was at in 2019. People are travelling almost as frequently as they were before the pandemic due to a greatly reduced fear of COVID-19 from vaccines and the unlikelihood of virus transmission on planes. Even though the airline industry is benefitting from this, there could be consequences for the several millions of people travelling each week. It could start a new wave of coronavirus and cause a large number of people to be infected again, which would push the pandemic even further. As airlines are increasing their airfares as more people travel, it is unsure if travel demand will remain as high as it is now or slow down later in the summer. Even with such risks, it is at least great to see the aviation industry making a recovery after the difficult times it experienced in 2020.
Cover Image: DW