US passengers are coming back ahead of the summer. This past week highlights the returning nature of leisure travelers. However, as a good sign for the summer, Thursday, May 13th, beat out Friday, May 14th for daily travel numbers. This has broken the trend since the start of the crisis of Friday peak days beating out Thursdays on non-holiday weekends.
Thursday beats out Friday
On Thursday, May 13th, 1,743,515 passengers passed through a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening checkpoint. This was higher than Friday, May 14th, which logged 1,716,561 passengers passing through a security checkpoint screening.
This has broken the pandemic-era trend of leisure travelers focusing travel around the weekends. Fridays and Sundays are usually peak days, with Thursdays and Mondays also coming out with higher passenger levels. This emphasizes the trends of leisure travelers seizing on the weekends to maximize getaways.
However, this Thursday is different. It is not the lead-up to a major holiday, nor was it a mid-week holiday. Instead, it was what would have seemed like an ordinary Thursday.
Is business travel coming back?
It may seem that this could be a sign of business travel coming back. Over the last few months, businesses have sent their employees back on the road, with small and medium-sized businesses coming back stronger than large corporate customers.
Another sign that business travel is coming back could be travel on Tuesday, May 11th. On that day, 1,315,493 passengers took to the skies, nearly 200,000 more passengers than the Tuesday before. May 11th came after Mother’s Day, which could explain the bump, but it is also possible that starting this week, more business travelers started to fly again.
Are leisure travelers changing their schedules?
Leisure travelers have mostly stuck to a weekend schedule, with most people boarding flights on Fridays, and carriers oriented around these schedules have done well. However, that does not mean that all leisure travelers think alike. Remote work is still the reality for many workers in the US, giving people some flexibility to choose where they want to work.
In the earlier months of the crisis, when leisure travelers started to return, some airlines reported seeing passengers choose leisure-oriented destinations, though on business schedules. For example, passengers would take a vacation in a place like Fort Myers or Bozeman and travel during the week.
Airlines are also starting to bring back their pricing power. This means that many revenue management systems are starting to come back online. As such, some leisure travelers may have been priced out of a Friday flight and may have decided to fly on a Thursday instead.
Schools are starting to end
Universities and schools are nearing the end of the academic year. Traditionally, when schools start to close for the summer, travel starts to pick up. Most schools and colleges will start to end from mid-May onwards, so this travel could be students heading home or families heading out now that children do not have to worry about missing school.
School and university holidays typically do lead to increased travel numbers. This includes Thanksgiving and the December holiday period. Other holidays, such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day, have also led to increased passenger numbers in the past.
Could it just be a fluke?
It is also possible that this week was a fluke. A combination of all three factors plus perhaps some price management from airlines led more people to fly on Thursday over Friday. Whether or not this was a fluke but the start of a more defined trend will be observed over the coming few weeks and months. In the last few months, however, the ongoing trend of increasing passenger numbers has continued.
Nevertheless, this shows some good signs for the summer. Airlines have typically seen excellent weekend and holiday passenger numbers. However, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, passenger numbers tend to be a little lower as those days are typically business-heavy travel days.
As passengers start to come back on more days of the week, this shows good signs for airlines trying to repair loads and yields. It is important to note that, even though nearly 1.75 million passengers flew on Thursday, it does not mean that carriers earned substantial revenues from passengers booked on that day.
Did you travel on Thursday? How are you scheduling or thinking about your summer vacation plans? Let us know in the comments!