Pandemic has set the number of air travellers back decades

The number of people travelling through US airports this week has fallen to levels not seen since the 1950s, due to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

A total of 97,130 people passed through security checkpoints in US airports on Tuesday, according to figures released by the Transportation Security Administration.

This represents a fall of 95% on a year ago, with people deciding not to travel while the coronavirus pandemic takes hold in the country.

However, this number could be lower, as retail workers and airport staff will also pass through official checkpoints.

An empty corridor is viewed at the Terminal 1 section at John F. Kennedy International Airport on March 12, 2020 in New York City. - US President Donald Trump announced a shock 30-day ban on travel from mainland Europe over the coronavirus pandemic that has sparked unprecedented lockdowns, widespread panic and another financial market meltdown Thursday.The announcement came as China, where the outbreak that first emerged in December, showed a dramatic drop in new cases and claimed "the peak" of the epidemic had passed. (Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP) (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)
Image:An empty corridor at JFK Airport in New York

According to data from trade group Airlines for America, the last time the country averaged 97,000 passengers was 1954 and that number has risen every year since.

In the few days after the September 11 terror attacks, commercial flying in the US was halted, and people were slow to get back on planes – but it is believed the period of low numbers could last longer during the COVID-19 outbreak.

According to polling company Public Opinion Strategies, less than 50% of Americans said they would get on a plane in the sixth months following the flattening of the virus curve in the US.

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The drop in passenger numbers has come suddenly. On 1 March, around 2.3 million people passed through security checkpoints at US airports – almost identical numbers to the same time last year.

The second week of March saw the start of the rapid decline and only slowed in the last few days.

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Airlines around the world have responded to the dramatic fall in passenger numbers by slashing services – but many planes are still flying empty.

United Airlines has said it is losing around $100m (£80m) a day, while Delta says its losses amount to $60m (£48m) each day.

British Airways, Ryanair and Easy Jet have grounded most of their fleet

Most of the major airlines have applied for federal support in an effort to kick-start the industry when the pandemic is over.

In the UK, the rapid decline in passenger numbers as a result of travel restrictions and government advice has meant that many airlines, including easyJet, have grounded their entire fleet, and a number of airports have been closed completely.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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