The busiest US air travel day in 2020 may be lower than any day in 2019

The terminals were well below capacity, but what about the planes?
The terminals were well below capacity, but what about the planes?
Image: Reuters/Hannah McKay
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Typically the Sunday following Thanksgiving is one of the US’s busiest air travel days. Not even the pandemic was able to change that.

US planes carried more passengers on Sunday, Nov. 29 than on any other day since March, according to the Transportation Security Administration. That’s when the agency began releasing daily counts of passengers passing through security checkpoints.

Despite being one of the busiest days during the pandemic, air travel on Nov. 29 was substantially lower than every single day in 2019 that the TSA has released figures about (2019 data for January, February, or December are not yet available). Airports on Sunday saw 59% fewer passengers than the same Sunday in 2019 when passenger totals were highest. Compared to the least busy day of 2019, Sunday’s travel figures were 26% lower.

Of course, the pandemic has caused airlines to drastically modify their operations. So while there were fewer passengers, there were fewer flights too. That means that planes were more full this year than the headline figures suggest.

Using data from Cirium, we can estimate that the number of passengers per flight dropped from 110 on the peak travel day in 2019 to 69 on the peak travel day this year, a decline of 37%.