WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. passenger airline traffic fell 60.1% in 2020 to the lowest number since 1984 as the COVID-19 pandemic devastated demand for air travel, the U.S. Transportation Department said on Tuesday.
In total, there were 368 million passengers in 2020, down from 922.6 million in 2019. The previous yearly low was 351.6 million in 1984, the department said.
December air travel fell 62%, slightly more than the decline in November, the department said. For all of 2020, U.S. domestic air travel fell by 58.7%, while international travel fell 70.4% as many countries imposed significant travel restrictions. U.S. airlines say air travel demand remains down more than 60% through early February.
Airlines for America, an industry trade group representing American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and others, said the nine largest U.S. airlines lost $46 billion before taxes in 2020 and said that passenger volumes are unlikely to return to pre-COVID-19 levels before 2023 or 2024.
U.S. citizens are still barred from travel to much of Europe and other countries, and business travel remains severely depressed. The number of flights operated by U.S. carriers remains down about 45%.
A $1.9 trillion COVID-10 relief bill making its way through Congress would allocate another $14 billion to extend payroll assistance to U.S. airlines to keep thousands of workers on the job through Sept. 30.
Congress has previously approved $40 billion in payroll assistance for U.S. airlines and $25 billion in low-interest loans.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)