More than 3.3 million people traveled by air over the first five days of July, setting a new record for air travel during the coronavirus pandemic.
Additionally, more than 700,000 people flew over three days of the long holiday weekend — July 2, 3, and 5, according to the US Transportation Security Administration — breaking that barrier for the first time since March 18, early into the pandemic quarantines.
Despite the uptick in travel over the holiday period, however, the larger picture remains bleak for airlines in the US and globally.
For instance, although the TSA saw 764,761 passengers on July 2, nearly 2.1 million people flew on the same day in 2019. Last year, nearly 12 million people flew during the first five days of July.
Even with the holiday increase, travel demand is likely to come back slowly, especially as states across the US see record spikes in coronavirus cases.
The overall number of travelers published by the TSA represents the total distributed across the nation's commercial airlines. Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said last week that the airline expected to fly just 600,000 passengers over the July 4 holiday weekend, compared to 3.2 million passengers last year — an 80% reduction. An American Airlines spokesperson told Business Insider that it was the airline's busiest weekend since March.
Daily passenger counts in the US have grown steadily since mid-April, when the total hit a low of just over 87,000.
However, that growth has been slow, and typically consists of passengers traveling for leisure, rather than more profitable business travelers.
"Business travelers, who provide the bulk of our revenue, have not yet returned in significant numbers," Bastian wrote in last week's memo.
Airlines in the US and globally have been decimated by the collapse of travel demand, particularly of business travel. Even as some corporate travel bans are lifted and certain unavoidable business travel resumes, such as that within the manufacturing sector, demand is expected to take 3-5 years to fully recover across the industry.
US airlines are consequently seeking to cut staffing. While they are prohibited from laying off or furloughing workers through September 30, under the terms of the CARES Act, the notices have already started to go out to employees who will be impacted.
American, for instance, issued its first furlough notices to management and support workers last week, while warning that it was overstaffed by about 7,000 to 8,000 flight attendants, and about 20,000 employees overall.
In an effort to avoid or minimize layoffs, the major airlines have offered various voluntary separation options to workers, including buyouts and early retirements. These packages typically offer departing employees some form of continued pay, as well as helath and travel benefits.
In Thursday's memo, Bastian urged workers to consider taking the "a once-in-a-career opportunity to depart Delta with generous cash severance and retiree medical and flight benefits." The airline said it would accept applications through July 13.