By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. government screened 500 million fewer people at U.S. airport checkpoints in 2020, down 61% over 2019, as air travel slowed sharply during the coronavirus pandemic, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said on Monday.
The TSA said it screened 324 million passengers throughout its airport security checkpoints in 2020, down from 824 million passengers screened in 2019. In recent weeks, travel has rebounded slightly. On Sunday, TSA screened 1.327 million people at airport checkpoints, the most since mid-March, but still down 45% from the same day in 2020.
TSA said in a statement it anticipates “daily travel volumes will continue to rise steadily and follow seasonal patterns. However, the agency expects volume will remain well below pre-pandemic levels through most of 2021.”
Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said U.S. airline passenger volumes were down 57% over 2019 levels in mid-December, with domestic travel down 56% and international air travel down 66%.
Many airlines do not think travel will significantly rebound until widespread vaccinations take place.
Major airlines lost more than $36 billion in the first nine months of 2020 but Congress has approved $15 billion in new payroll assistance as part of a COVID-19 relief package to keep thousands of aviation workers on the payroll through March 31.
The U.S. Transportation Department said in December that U.S. passenger airlines as of mid-October employed 9.1% fewer full-time equivalents employees versus the prior month to 368,162 — down 36,707 jobs in a month and down 91,871 since mid-March.
Business travel remains especially hard hit. Planes are on average just 61% full compared with 89% in the same week last year while non-U.S. citizen travel to the United States was down 84% in November.
U.S. travel to and from 14 of the 20 top foreign country destinations were down 90% or more in October.
(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)