The United States saw its busiest travel day since the pandemic began on Wednesday, screening over 2.3 million individuals across the country.
The surge in numbers comes as the nation continues to celebrate the Thanksgiving season which runs from Friday to Sunday, 19-28 November, and last week the Transport Security Administration (TSA) said it expected around 20 million passengers across the holiday – double the number last year.
According to a tweet from the TSA, the figure on Wednesday represented 88 per cent of pre-pandemic volumes from 2019. In 2020, the agency only screened just over one million passengers on the same day.
Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokeswoman who spoke to Reuters said the agency hired over 6,000 new employees this year in a bid to handle the increase in passenger volumes as travel continues to rebound.
“So, staffing, while we are hiring, will not slow people down this holiday season,” Dankers said.
According to the TSA, the highest travel day in history was the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019, where almost 2.9 million passengers were screened at checkpoints nationwide.
While numbers did soar again this year, the agency did not expect volumes to reach pre-pandemic levels despite the confidence in travel returning.
Airlines have been offering staff bonuses and incentives to encourage employees to work through until the Christmas season is over, especially as major labour shortages hindered carriers across the nation during numerous busy seasons this year.
American Airlines said in early November it is paying some workers US$1,000 bonuses and offering flight attendants triple pay if they don’t miss work until 2 January.
Southwest announced last week it is also giving employees up to US$1,600 in frequent flyer points to redeem for travel if they work during the busy season.
Both of those airlines suffered from major cancellations in early October due to staff shortages and weather disruptions, and Southwest said it cost the carrier US$75 million in its third quarter earnings release.
A Delta Air Lines spokesperson told Reuters: “We’re staffed and ready to get our customers to where they need to go safely, reliably and enjoyably.”
The last time the TSA saw a significant surge in screenings was during the 4 July holiday weekend, reporting over 10 million domestic passengers travelling for the occasion.
It was more than three times the number recorded over the same period in 2020.