Coronavirus has cut US air travel to a fraction of what it was, with COVID-19 guidelines including stay-at-home orders reducing flyers to a bare trickle, the TSA has confirmed. With many US states on lockdown by governor order, and the general advice being to maintain social distance and avoid unnecessary travel, the knock-on impact to how many people are passing through airports has been huge.
Airlines have been quick to warn about the implications for their businesses. Flights have been cut from the schedules, but even then many are operating with just a handful of people onboard. Some routes have even seen completely empty planes flying with just cabin crew onboard.
Nowhere is the COVID-19 change made clearer than in the TSA’s official checkpoint travel numbers. The Transport Security Administration is releasing its daily numbers of people passing through its checkpoints across the US, updating the count daily. It’s also providing the figures for 2019 by way of comparison.
The differences in travel patterns are fairly shocking. Last Sunday, April 5, for example, the TSA saw 122,029 people pass through its checkpoints. A year ago, on the same weekday, that number was 2,462,929.
The downward trend began roughly at the start of March 2020, though it was March 17 when the numbers of daily travelers dipped below one million. Since then, they’ve continued to dwindle. If the pattern continues, we could see a dip into sub-100,000 travelers sometime this week.
Airline loyalty schemes are trying to catch up
For airlines, it’s tough times. On the one hand, the companies are looking for support from the federal government, and hoping that stimulus packages enacted to keep the US economy moving will have a cache of cash for them, too. At the same time, some of their most loyal customers are voicing concerns about their frequent flyer status.
Delta and United responded to those worries over the weekend. Delta first announced that it would be extending Medallion Status through 2021, allowing its frequent fliers to keep the same status they’re currently on until the end of next year. Typically, that would cease at the end of January 2021. Delta will also be rolling over all of the Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) a customer collects in 2020 into 2021, to count toward 2022 status.
United quickly followed with an announcement of its own. 2020 Premier status would be extended to January 31, 2022, the airline said. It will also be reducing the thresholds for Premium qualification in the 2021 status year. You’ll now only need 50-percent of the previous thresholds.