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U.S. Airlines See Jump in Traffic; Still Below Pre-Pandemic Rates

A new report that analyzes the yearly airline traffic of 2021 was recently released by the Transportation Department, revealing that airlines in the United States carried around 670.4 million passengers in 2021. While this is about 83% higher than what was recorded in 2020, travel rates are still lower than what was experienced before the pandemic began. For example, 27% more passengers traveled in 2019 compared to 2021 — or 245.9 million more. 

In December of 2021 alone, airlines throughout the United States carried about 66.3 million passengers. While December of 2021 saw a 118% increase in travel when compared to December of 2020, travel was still 16% off of what was experienced in December of 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread throughout the country.  

This latest report comes after airlines in the country had a difficult year as two new variants of the coronavirus caused bookings to slow down and flights to have to be delayed or canceled. While December of 2021 did see this increase in traffic as people traveled for the holidays, there were also major issues that hindered how airlines were able to conduct business.

Bad winter weather wasn’t the only factor that led to flight delays and cancellations. As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, a highly contagious variant, began to spread throughout the country, many airlines began to have issues as their flight crews and employers began to become infected with the virus. Having to call out, many flights were left with very small crews. Thousands of flights were canceled around the country — right as people began to travel for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

The fourth quarter was difficult for many airlines, as a result. Some fared well; others did not. However, all airlines are remaining optimistic that 2022 will bring more Americans willing to travel, even if the pandemic continues on in the fluid state it’s currently in. In 2021, more Americans began to travel as they became fully vaccinated, wanting to travel after largely staying home throughout most or all of 2020. Airlines and analysts alike believe that travel will continue to increase into the new year, likely slowly getting back to those pre-pandemic rates mentioned above.

Of course, the pandemic could continue to change things — just as it did towards the end of 2021. If another wave of the pandemic picks up again, this will likely negatively impact air travel. However, the Omicron does appear to be subsiding for the moment, which could help airlines. Plus, airlines are very optimistic about summer travel. Most companies are aware that people are going to be traveling in mass waves at the beginning of the year. However, they’re hoping summer will be a good time to travel for many. 

If the pandemic does continue in a similar state that it’s currently in, then airlines may continue to struggle — even if people are traveling in mass amounts, or in the large amounts they were before the pandemic began. If airlines do not have the accurate amount of workers to successfully complete flights on time, then delays and cancellations could continue to happen. 

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