Christmas travel gives US airports busiest week since onset of COVID-19

State and local officials nationwide urged Americans not to travel for the holidays, saying that Thanksgiving celebrations had further spread the virus.

People travel during the holiday season at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (photo credit: EMILY ELCONIN/REUTERS)
People travel during the holiday season at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport
(photo credit: EMILY ELCONIN/REUTERS)
Some 846,520 people were screened at Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints across the United States on Christmas Eve, marking the end of busiest travel week since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Throughout the week, some 7,189,521 people were screened by airport security personnel, with December 23 marking the largest travel day of the year - ranking just above all the peak travel days surrounding Thanksgiving.
State and local officials nationwide urged Americans not to travel for the holidays, saying that Thanksgiving celebrations had further spread the virus.
Many Americans, weary after more than nine months of lockdowns, defied those warnings. More passengers flew on commercial flights on Wednesday than any other day of the pandemic, with 1,191,123 passengers passing through airport checkpoints, according to data from the TSA.
That number represents a drop from 2019, when 1,937,235 flew on Dec. 23.
There have been just seven days since March 16 that the number of US airline passengers screened topped 1 million, with four occurring in late November around Thanksgiving.
The year before, on Christmas Eve, some 2,552,194 alone hopped on flights to visit loved ones - a couple months before restrictions and bans on international travel began sweeping nations worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic brought travel to a near halt earlier in the year, sending airlines into a downward spiral, forcing them to scale back operations and seek government bailouts.
US airlines say travel demand remains down 62% from a year ago, while international travel demand remains down more than 70%. Some officials think US restrictions barring many non-US citizens from arrival could be eliminated or reduced with new testing.
Even as vaccination programs give airlines a reason to hope that control of the pandemic may be in sight, an even more transmissible variant has begun spreading rapidly in the United Kingdom.
The US government will require all airline passengers arriving from the United Kingdom to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of departure starting Monday amid the concerns about a the new coronavirus variant.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement late on Thursday that all airline passengers arriving from the UK must test negative in order to fly to the United States. The decision was a turnaround after the Trump administration told US airlines on Tuesday it was not planning to require any testing for arriving UK passengers.

Reuters contributed to this report.