Air travel hits pandemic high

Air travel hits pandemic high
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Air travel reached a pandemic high this weekend despite a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious delta variant.

More than 2.2 million people went through U.S. airport checkpoints on Sunday, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration. That’s the highest figure the agency reported since the start of the pandemic, but still down 17 percent from the same day in 2019.

The spike in summer travel has caused thousands of delays and cancellations in recent months. Those issues persisted over the weekend, with major carriers canceling hundreds of flights in recent days due to poor weather and staffing shortages. 

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Spirit Airlines canceled hundreds of flights over the last two days, including 41 percent of its flights as of Tuesday morning, according to data from FlightAware. The company blamed the flight cancellations on weather and unspecified operational challenges. 

American Airlines canceled 850 flights between Sunday and Monday amid thunderstorms. The airline canceled an additional 280 flights as of Tuesday morning, about 9 percent of its flights, according to FlightAware. 

Airlines and airports have struggled to find enough workers to meet rising demand despite receiving $54 billion in federal aid to keep employees on their payrolls during the pandemic. 

The delays and cancellations have drawn scrutiny from lawmakers, including Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee and Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellAirlines defend delays, cancellations amid scrutiny from Congress Real relief from high gas prices GOP resistance to Biden FCC nominee could endanger board's Democratic majority MORE (D-Wash.), who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee.

The summer surge in air travel has given a financial boost to airlines, which suffered huge losses during much of the pandemic. Delta, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines reported their first profits of the pandemic in the second quarter of 2021, thanks in part to billions in federal assistance.

The industry’s recovery is threatened by a recent increase in COVID-19 cases due to the spread of the delta variant. While some travel experts say the variant's rapid spread could dampen demand for air travel, airline executives say it hasn't yet affected ticket sales.