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TSA records highest passenger screenings since COVID-19 pandemic hit

The Transportation Security Administration said 1.34 million people passed through U.S. airport checkpoints on Sunday.

WASHINGTON — The number of people flying in the United States has eclipsed the year-ago level for the first time in the pandemic period, although travel remains deeply depressed from 2019.

The Transportation Security Administration said 1.34 million people passed through U.S. airport checkpoints on Sunday, topping the 1.26 million people that TSA screened on the comparable Sunday a year ago.

It marked the fourth straight day that TSA saw more than 1 million people pass through its checkpoints — Friday was a new peak, nearly 1.36 million. The seven-day moving average of TSA traffic hit its highest level since March 2020, when travel was collapsing as COVID-19 spread rapidly.

However, Sunday's screenings were still 45% lower than on the comparable day in 2019, and screenings in March are running 53% lower than the same period two years ago.

Several airlines report that after dismal sales in January and February, more people have bought tickets to travel in spring or summer as infection rates decline and more people get vaccinated against COVID-19 — about 70 million Americans have received at least one dose and 37 million have completed their vaccination, according to government figures.

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Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said Monday that bookings began picking up five or six weeks ago.

Since the pandemic hit, air travel has picked up a few times — mostly around holidays — only to drop back down. This time, the recovery “seems like it's real,” Bastian said on a J.P. Morgan investor conference.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said his airline will generate “core” cash instead of burning cash for March, and he expects the positive trend to continue in the months ahead.

Southwest Airlines said said revenue for March and April will be better than expected as passenger traffic and fares rise. The airline said people are booking leisure trips to beach and mountain destinations but business travel is still lagging.

Airline stocks rose in late-morning trading. United and American Airlines rose about 9%, Delta gained more than 4% and Southwest Airlines added 1%.

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