Airlines Transported 60 Percent Less Travelers in 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic caused U.S. airlines to lose 60 percent of their passenger business compared to 2019. The preliminary numbers from the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows the declines were worse than after all major economic and transportation tragedies.

The COVID-19 pandemic is now officially the worst event in U.S. aviation history, as year-over-year passenger traffic dropped by 59 percent in 2020. The numbers are part of a new data set issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

2020 Set New Historic Lows for Airline Passenger Traffic

The year 2020 was set to be a banner year for airlines and passenger traffic, after the opening months showed an increase in what is traditionally a slow season. Once the COVID-19 pandemic came to the United States, all passenger traffic immediately dropped. For the total year, passenger traffic dropped by 60.1 percent in 2020, compared to 2019.

Graph courtesy: U.S. Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics

According to data from the BTS, April 2020 set a new historic low, with airlines losing nearly all their passenger traffic. The three-million passengers carried in the month beat the previous low of 14.6 million passengers carried in February 1975.

For December 2020 alone, the 22 reporting U.S. carriers say they only carried 30.4 million passengers, down from 79 million flyers in December 2019. The drop reflected a 62 percent decrease compared to the previous year.

Both domestic and international travel suffered equally during the holiday month. Airlines carried 27.2 million domestic passengers and 3.2 million international flyers in December. The passenger load was only 38 percent compared to the number of flyers in 2019.

The data came from the preliminary information sent to the DOT as of Feb. 4, 2021. The full data for December 2020 and the full-year traffic data will be released in March.

Data Comes as Airlines Continues to Struggle to Attract Passengers

The data not only confirms how bad the 2020 calendar year was due to the novel Coronavirus outbreak, but how airlines are continuing to struggle with attracting passengers. United Airlines is not expecting a recovery until 2023, while others are projecting an even longer runway before air travel returns to “normal.”

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