TSA reports huge surge in air travel as US slowly moves on from pandemic

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported screening a huge number of people on Thursday, July 1, marking a milestone in the US's efforts to move past the pandemic. Though the pandemic is not over and likely won't be on a worldwide basis until next year, the US has broadly offered a COVID-19 vaccination program since early spring and has since loosened many of its pandemic-related restrictions.

On Thursday, the TSA reported screening around 2.15 million people at airports, a figure that eclipses the 2.01 million it screened on the same day in 2019. Though the number of air passengers is expected to dip again post-July 4th holiday, the uptick underscores the number of people who are once again hitting the skies to go on vacation or visit friends and family.

Today, July 3, marks the start of the Fourth of July weekend, a notoriously busy time when it comes to travel. The TSA has offered guidance to people who plan to travel this weekend, noting that it expects the number of people it will screen today and tomorrow will eclipse the high figures it has seen since late June.

Morning flights have tighter schedules, the TSA notes, and with many major airports in the US reaching or exceeding their 2019 travel volumes, the agency suggests steps travelers should take to help ease the burden and get everyone to their destinations more smoothly. First things first, the TSA says you should contact the airport you fly out of to check on their volume and how early you should arrive for your flight.

Air passengers still have the option of enrolling in the TSA's PreCheck program to speed up their screening process. Likewise, the agency points out that you still have to wear face masks if you're traveling by air regardless of whether you've been vaccinated. The TSA says that it has seen almost total voluntary compliance with this rule through the entire air transportation system, indicating that most people have accepted the role of face masks in reducing virus transmission.

Other recommendations will be familiar to anyone who travels by air frequently: pack from an empty bag to avoid bringing anything that'll get caught during screening, put wearables and pocketed items in your carry-on bag before getting in line to reduce the number of bins that need scanned, and make sure you have valid ID ready to hand over in order to avoid holding up the line.