Omicron fails to slow holiday travel, as airline passenger numbers rival 2019

TSA screenings topped 2019 benchmark for same date Thursday, as Americans gather for Christmas

Nearly 2.2 million Americans traveled through U.S. airports on Thursday, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), surpassing travel numbers from the same day in 2019 despite concerns over a surge in coronavirus cases. 

"TSA screened 2,187,792 individuals yesterday at checkpoints around the country," the agency tweeted Friday morning. 

That is about a quarter-million more people than passed through TSA checkpoints on Dec. 32, 2019, when 1,937,235 people traveled through American airports. In 2020, the number of travelers was only 1,191,123. 

COVID CHRISTMAS: OFFICIALS ADVISE MASKS AT HOME, CANCELING GATHERINGS, SHUNNING UNVAXXED

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
UAL UNITED AIRLINES HOLDINGS INC. 42.88 -1.52 -3.42%
DAL DELTA AIR LINES INC. 38.84 +0.02 +0.05%
AAL AMERICAN AIRLINES GROUP INC. 16.76 -0.55 -3.18%
LUV SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO. 44.34 -0.09 -0.20%

The increased travel numbers come even as COVID-19 cases spike in the U.S. largely because of the omicron variant of the virus, which quickly became the dominant variant in the U.S. after it was first discovered in South Africa. 

Coronavirus spread is even having an effect on the flights themselves. Delta and United Airlines are each canceling flights across the country because of "an increase in Covid cases limiting crew availability."

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Meanwhile, state and local officials are issuing dire warnings about the omicron variant, even going so far as to tell people not to hold holiday gatherings or to shun their unvaccinated relatives. 

"Please do not hold or attend holiday parties indoors, it's just too dangerous," Philadelphia Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said last week. 

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"With the holiday season quickly approaching, many people are planning to gather with loved ones to celebrate. The Milwaukee Health Department urges those who are gathering to do so safely. This means gathering with only fully vaccinated friends and family," the Milwaukee Health Department says in its Christmas guidance. 

Despite the fact the number of air travelers Thursday surpassed the number on the same date in 2019, the 2021 holiday season may still see fewer overall holiday travelers than two years ago. Travel numbers Wednesday topped 2019's total by about 150,000, but 2019 travel numbers were higher than this year's for several days in a row before that. 

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Nevertheless, commercial air travel is clearly back from its pandemic lows. Thursday's TSA numbers were nearly double the level of 2020 holiday travel and many times higher than April 2020 numbers, when some days the TSA screened fewer than 100,000 people. 

FOX Business' Adam Sabes contributed to this report.