Another Good Weekend In The US Shows Increasing Demand For Travel

As a sign of increasing confidence in air travel, US passenger traffic has surpassed one million a day for the third straight weekend. However, this time, the numbers were just as good on Thursday, February 25th, as they were on Friday the 26th– an increasing sign that customers are willing to get back onboard planes as the busy summer season starts to set in.

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Airlines have seen relatively high passenger numbers this month– especially around the weekends. Photo: Getty Images

High passenger counts continue for the third straight weekend

February has been turning out better than many had expected, with weekends seeing high traveler numbers. Just looking at Fridays, we can see the following upward trend:

  • February 5th:  868,624 passengers
  • February 12th: 1,151,420 passengers
  • February 19th: 1,059,452 passengers
  • February 26th: 1,096,348 passengers

The weekend of the 12th is a bit of an oddball in between, as it was the Friday before a long weekend with Presidents’ Day, so an even greater number of leisure passengers showed a willingness to fly. Outside of that weekend, strong numbers from the 19th and 26th indicate that passengers are willing to get onboard an aircraft in increasing numbers. These are some of the best numbers since they slid after the winter holiday period.

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Leisure travelers have shown a greater willingness to come back than corporate ones. Photo: Getty Images

The good news continues for airlines

Consistently, some of the worst travel days have been Tuesdays. Normally a heavy business travel day, one US airline– Allegiant Air– has gone as far as to essentially shut down operations on that one day with no flights scheduled for Tuesdays. With mostly leisure travelers now flying, Tuesdays have seen fewerpassengers board a plane than any other day. However, even those numbers have been encouraging. Here’s the data from the last few Tuesdays:

  • February 2nd: 493,338 passengers
  • February 9th: 617,619 passengers
  • February 16th: 738,825 passengers
  • February 23rd: 714,725 passengers

Those numbers, minus February 2nd, are reminiscent of some of the better months in US air travel in 2020 after the pandemic started. This is not all business travel, of course, but increased passenger counts on non-leisure days is a good sign and will be necessary for airlines moving forward.

Not all premium cabins are going out as full as some economy cabins are. Photo: Getty Images

Good signs for spring break?

The crisis has been anything except linear. Growing passenger counts have done everything from stalled growth and stagnant numbers to a sharp decline, leaving air carriers assessing their schedules on a short-term basis.

Given that, it is incredibly difficult to say that these trends will continue through March. One of the biggest roadblocks to increased passenger numbers are travel restrictions. Passengers like to go to places that are open for dining and entertainment or feature a host of outdoor activities, like hiking, skiing, or even surfing. This has been a strong trend since last summer.

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Leisure travelers are primarily choosing warm-weather and outdoor destinations. Photo: Getty Images

Spring break is around the corner, and it is anyone’s guess how travel will turn out. If passengers are increasingly confident heading out to leisure destinations, then travel numbers will likely be relatively high. If current trends continue, perhaps more days in March could see passenger counts cross the million traveler account than any other month since March of 2020.

International travel will rely heavily on a vaccine to reopen borders. In contrast, domestic travel is tied mostly to what is open where– which is one reason why the sluggish pace of vaccinations is not correlating to a sluggish return in travel.

In most places in the US, dining and theme parks have reopened, but there are usually restrictions requiring outdoor dining or face masks in public places. The areas with entry restrictions in effect usually require passengers to get tested before arrival or else adhere to a strict quarantine period.

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Greater access to testing for travelers has enabled more passengers to travel. Photo: Getty Images

Ultimately, things are looking good for spring break, but things can also change at a moment’s notice. If the trends continue, then the first quarter of 2021 could end up being the start of a sustained upswing in travel.

Are you making plans to travel over spring break? Have you traveled over the last month? Let us know in the comments!