The number of Americans getting on airplanes has sunk to a level not seen in more than 60 years as people shelter in their homes to avoid catching or spreading the coronavirus.
The Transportation Security Administration screened 94,931 people on Wednesday, a drop of 96% from a year ago and the second straight day under 100,000.
The official tally of people who passed through TSA checkpoints exaggerates the number of travelers — if that is possible — because it includes some airline crew members and people still working at shops inside airport security.
Historical daily numbers only go back so far, but the nation last averaged fewer than 100,000 passengers a day in 1954, according to figures from trade group Airlines for America. It was the dawn of the jet age. The de Havilland Comet, the first commercial jetliner, was just a few years old, and Boeing was running test flights with the jet that would become the iconic 707.
As air travel became safer and more affordable, the passenger numbers grew nearly every year until 2001. There was no commercial air travel in the U.S. for several days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and people were slow to get back on planes — U.S. passenger traffic didn’t grow again until 2003.
It could be longer this time. Polling firm Public Opinion Strategies said that fewer than half the Americans it surveyed about 10 days ago say they will get on a plane within six months of the spread of the virus flattening. A Stifel Nicolaus analyst estimated that air travel demand won’t return to pre-outbreak levels until the middle of next year under the best outcome, and it’s likely to be later.
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