Labor Day marked first holiday weekend to exceed pre-pandemic air travel levels, TSA says

People wait in a TSA line at the John F. Kennedy International Airport on June 28, 2022, in New York. Tens of thousands of flyers had their travel plans upended Friday, Aug. 5, after airlines canceled more than 1,100 flights for a second straight day because of thunderstorms hitting the East Coast. (AP Photo/Julia Nikhinson, File)

Nearly 9 million people passed through the nation’s airports during the Labor Day weekend, the first holiday weekend to surpass pre-pandemic air travel levels, according to Transportation Security Administration (TSA) data.

The agency announced on Tuesday that it screened 8.76 million passengers between Friday and Monday, which was 102 percent of the Labor Day weekend passenger volume in 2019.

“TSA’s highly trained and dedicated workforce facilitated secure travel for millions of passengers during the busy summer travel season with very little disruptions at the checkpoint,” TSA acting Administrator David Pekoske said in a statement. “We were also able to continue the deployment of new technologies that facilitate stronger identity verification procedures and enhanced security screening for carry-on bags.”

The agency screened nearly 2.48 million passengers on Friday alone, the second highest single-day total since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. TSA screened about 2.49 million passengers on the Friday preceding Independence Day.

Flying demand surged this summer, with nine of the 10 highest passenger outputs during the pandemic occurring since June of this year. 

Despite the recent increase, however, passenger output during summer holiday weekends like Memorial Day and Independence Day remained below pre-pandemic levels.

Many passengers experienced flight delays and cancellations during those holiday weekends as the industry struggled to support the increased demand, making for a messy summer travel season. 

Consumer complaints against airlines have also soared this year, leading Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to propose stricter airline refund regulations and publish a new dashboard on airlines’ commitments during delays and cancellations.

Airlines say issues like staffing shortages and severe weather fueled the large number of disruptions, although they have also placed some of the blame on staffing shortages at air traffic control centers, particularly in the busy New York and Florida travel corridors.

Many airlines, like Delta Air Lines and JetBlue, cut back their schedules for parts of the summer to improve reliability.

Flight reliability fared better over the Labor Day weekend compared to some recent holiday travel. Airlines canceled 179 flights and delayed 5,299 flights on Friday, compared to 587 cancellations and 7,853 delays on the Friday preceding Independence Day, according to Flight Aware.

Tags air travel airline delays david pekoske Labor Day weekend Transportation Security Administration

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