U.S. airlines’ passenger counts plummeted 60% in 2020

11/23/2020 �  Atlanta, Georgia �An airport passenger leaves the Domestic Terminal lobby Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta , Monday, November 23, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
11/23/2020 � Atlanta, Georgia �An airport passenger leaves the Domestic Terminal lobby Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta , Monday, November 23, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Traffic on U.S. airlines reached its lowest level since the 1980s

The number of passengers flying on U.S. airlines fell 60% in 2020 as most travelers stayed home during the COVID-19 pandemic, new federal data show.

The passenger counts were at their lowest level since the mid-1980s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The number of flights also dropped as airlines recorded the fewest since federal reporting began in 1987.

The nation’s airlines carried a total 369 million passengers last year, according to the federal data released Thursday. That’s down from 927 million passengers in 2019.

Passenger counts on U.S. airlines in 2020 plummeted to their lowest level since the mid-1980s. Source: U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics
Passenger counts on U.S. airlines in 2020 plummeted to their lowest level since the mid-1980s. Source: U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Credit: Source: U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Credit: Source: U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics

Domestic passenger counts were down 59%, while international passenger counts were down 70%. International traffic typically makes up about 12% of passengers on U.S. airlines. However, the data released Thursday does not include passengers on foreign carriers.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines — which, compared to some smaller carriers, has a greater share of the international and business travel — saw its passenger traffic decline by nearly 70%.

Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where Delta has its largest hub, had a more than 60% decline in passenger counts in 2020.

Traffic levels nationally remained down 60% or more into the first few weeks of this year. However, passenger counts at airport security checkpoints in the past month have climbed above the 1 million mark on some days, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration.

A recovery in air traffic is “expected to accelerate heading into the summer months with greater vaccination rates and the release of pent-up travel demand,” according to a Thursday report by bond rating agency Fitch Ratings. Leisure travel will lead the recovery, particularly domestic travel, but it is expected to take years.

“We are forecasting a prolonged recovery for the air travel industry, with full recovery in the U.S. not expected until 2024 at the earliest,” the report said.

About the Author

ajc.com

In Other News