The drop in crowds, which occurred on Tuesday, comes less than a week after the Biden administration enacted coronavirus travel restrictions through an executive order that as of Tuesday requires negative coronavirus tests of all travelers for entry into the United States, as well as a seven-day self-quarantine period. The same day last year, before the coronavirus pandemic began in the United States, saw 1.6 million passengers screened.
Tuesdays, along with most other weekdays, have also been a slow travel day during the pandemic, TSA says. Sunday, which is now typically the busiest travel day of the week, saw 838,116 passengers pass through checkpoints.
“Since the pandemic hit, Sundays are the busier days. That’s an interesting change from pre-pandemic days when Sundays would have been slower due to very low business travelers,” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said in an email.
The last time passenger levels were below 500,000 was July 4, 2020, a Saturday holiday only a few months into the pandemic. Since last summer, traveler volumes have consistently risen to higher levels that now sporadically surpass 1 million passengers per day.
Farbstein notes that federal holidays are also typically slower travel days. “Days leading up to and immediately after holidays (i.e., Memorial Day, July Fourth, Labor Day, Thanksgiving) tend to be busier as people fly to spend the holiday elsewhere.”
While the nation’s airports are seeing far fewer daily travelers than they did before the pandemic (less than half) experts have said air travel numbers may continue to trend upward overall as vaccines continue to be administered in the United States and beyond and hopes swell for spring break and summer travel abroad.
New air travel restrictions enacted by the Biden administration and other nations to prevent the spread of new, more-contagious variants of the coronavirus, however, may be impacting hopes for a speedy return to travel.
On Tuesday, the State Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a news conference during which they discouraged nonessential international travel and raised the scenario of travelers becoming stuck elsewhere if they could not acquire a coronavirus test for reentry into the United States.
The State Department said it does not have the resources to assist with coronavirus testing overseas, and CDC global migration director Martin Cetron warned that any person attempting to fly to the United States without a negative test result will be denied boarding and “could be stuck in an extended way” overseas. Cetron also said on the call that the CDC is considering domestic coronavirus testing requirements for noninternational flights.
The busiest day of the pandemic thus far has been Sunday, Jan. 3, when more than 1.3 million travelers passed through TSA checkpoints, heading home from holiday gatherings and vacations.
In October, TSA saw its first 1 million passenger day since March. Four more came in November around the Thanksgiving holiday period. In the two weeks around Christmas, 11 days hit that benchmark. January has so far seen three travel days with more than 1 million screenings.