WASHINGTON D.C. — More than 500,000 people crossed through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints on Thursday, the first time the numbers have climbed above that mark since travel cratered this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 502,209 people TSA reported screening is still well below typical levels — nearly 19% of the 2.7 million the agency screened on the same Thursday last year.
The passenger rates have steadily risen since bottoming out at about 3% of last year’s traffic — less than 100,000 daily travelers — in mid-April.
Airlines are operating more flights than at that point, and each plane is also carrying more passengers.
Airlines for America, representing the major US carriers, said Thursday that the average departure carries 57 passengers, compared to 50 the group reported Monday and fewer than 20 at the low point.
Air travel took a drastic dip this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic as government recommendations were to stay at home and avoid nonessential travel. In April, TSA and airlines reported a record 96% drop in the number of people traveling by plane.
Now that the US economy is slowly reopening and states are lifting restrictions, airlines are seeing signs that some Americans are ready to travel again, and have hopes that its summer travel season will be less dire than expected.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and US State Department, however, still recommend avoiding international travel.
TSA and airlines have implemented several new policies aimed at protecting passengers and crew from coronavirus transmission.
As of May, TSA has required its employees to wear facial protection while at screening checkpoints.
The agency has also made some changes to its security screen procedures that help officers avoid handling travelers’ belongings and travelers from handling shared X-ray bins.
Some airlines have committed to screening passengers’ temperatures before boarding, leaving the middle seat empty on flights, and making masks mandatory for passengers while they’re aboard.