It’s no secret that the airline industry has been hammered by the fallout related to the coronavirus pandemic. In the U.S., the scale of the disruption may be best born out by screening numbers that have been plummeting at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints nationwide.
On Tuesday, the agency reached a new, grim milestone, screening just 97,130 travelers across all U.S. airports. It was the first time that screenings dipped below 100,000 during the current slump, and is the latest indicator of the headwinds the airline industry faces as a result of the virus.
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“Yes, it’s a record low,” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said in a Wednesday tweet.
The falloff in travelers has come with stunning speed. By comparison, TSA agents screened more than 2 million travelers on the same weekday one year ago.
In fact, screenings were still topping the 2 million mark as recently as March 8. Since then, the numbers have been in free fall.
Related: TSA screenings had already fallen by 90% late last month.
To put that in perspective, the number of travelers screened just on March 8 — about 2.1 million — roughly matches the combined number screened by the TSA during a 14-day span stretching from March 25 though Tuesday, April 7.
The unprecedented drop in demand has pushed the airline industry to the brink.
Airlines have responded by slashing their route networks and doing whatever they can to conserve cash. New York City’s three major airports will see less than 100 daily departures between them from the big three U.S. airlines this month, almost all of them to destinations within the country.
Related: Coronavirus waivers in place at U.S. airlines.
Many carriers have also tried to skirt Department of Transportation regulations by offering travelers credits, instead of cash refunds, for canceled flights in an effort to balance their ledgers. That effort, however, has prompted a rebuke from the agency. The DOT advised airlines Friday that the tactic was unacceptable and could result in legal action against them.
The travel demand free-fall may not yet be over, and even when it ends, it’s likely to take years before it recovers to pre-coronavirus levels.
Featured photo by Paul Hennessy / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images.
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