One million people – and more specifically 1,031,505 people – is a lot of people.
It’s enough to fill “The Big House,” the University of Michigan’s Michigan Stadium, 10 times over. It’s enough to fill the United Center in Chicago (the largest arena in the NBA) 51 times, or a big, 100-seat theater at your local multiplex more than 1,000 times.
But if we’re talking about airline passengers per day – and we are in this case– a million people “ain’t nuthin’,” as they say; certainly nothing to get excited about.
Yet the headlines the last couple of days screamed the news that 1,031,505 people – – passed through Transportation Security Administration airport checkpoints on Sunday. That marked the first time that more than a million people cleared TSA checkpoints in a single day since March 16.
That’s a good thing, one supposes, given the context of the exceptional decline in air travel demand this year in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. After all, TSA checkpoint screenings tumbled all the way down to a measly low of 87,534 on April 14 (or just 4% of the 2.2 million people who passed through TSA checkpoint on same day in 2019).
But, by comparison with last year’s numbers, a million such screenings this past Sunday, while better than a poke in the eye, means demand remains down a staggering 60% from a year earlier, on Oct. 18, 2019.
Still worse, with the potential exception of a few holiday travel days around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day, those airport screening totals are extremely unlikely to rise above the “down 50% from a year ago” comparison mark until sometime next summer, at the earliest.
In fact, it will be almost impossible for the number of travelers passing through TSA checkpoints to reach that 50%-of-last-year watermark over the next six to nine months – and maybe longer. That’s because U.S. airlines won’t even offer enough seats each day during that time span for travel demand to reach that high.
Four of the nation’s five largest airlines are offering well below 50% as many seats for sale this month as they did in October 2019 (and remember, on most days they don’t come close to filling even half of the deeply reduced number seats that they now are offering). Though they may have vague hopes of significantly increasing their capacity over the next six to nine months, all indicators are that such rebound is extremely unlikely to happen.
Only Southwest airlines still offers more than 50% as many seats now as it did a year ago. The fabled maverick discount carrier has grown up. It’s been in business 49 years now (and this year will