U.S. air traffic passengers fell to their lowest numbers since 1974 as the number of scheduled passengers dropped 62 percent from December 2019 to December 2020, a Bureau of Transportation study found.
The data came from 22 airline companies that carry over 90 percent of passengers.
The 62 percent is a slightly larger drop than the 61 percent reduction reported from November 2019 to November 2020.
The aforementioned large airlines carried a total of 30 million passengers for the month of December 2020, as compared to 79 million in December 2019. The ultimate low point, though, was in April 2020, in which there were only 3 million passengers, which was the lowest number on record since 1974. The previous low was 14.6 million passengers in February 1975.
The airline industry has taken a major hit from COVID-19, which decimated its passenger base as lockdowns ensued early in 2020 and then, even once things started to reopen, people largely avoided airlines for fear of catching the virus. This has led the companies to find new ways to handle things. One innovation is using flights for cargo space to replace the missing passengers, a strategy which has been adopted by United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, among others.
The strategy is that, because fewer people are flying, fewer flights means less space for cargo. Therefore, because of the higher rates for cargo, cargo-only flights make more economic sense.
But despite reports of the airline industry’s possible recovery, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the airline industry’s trade body, said that might not happen as fast as people want due to the presence of new, possibly more deadly COVID-19 variants that have sprouted up in various parts of the world.
IATA says that the variants and the ensuing unpredictability could mean only a stunted 13 percent recovery in a worst-case scenario for this year.
That could come as a disappointment after the December forecast of a 50 percent recovery.