Business Treaveler logo

Travel news, reviews and intel for high-flyers

Airlines Aloft While Passenger Counts Drop

Airline passenger loads in U.S. drop nearly 90 percent but planes are still flying

by Business Traveler

March 30, 2020

The Transportation Security Administration reported airport checkpoint numbers of fewer than 200,000 passengers this weekend – a drop of 86 percent over the same period a year ago.

The TSA showed some 180,002 crossed through airport security on a national scale Sunday, its lowest point so far as the country continues to take protection measures against the aggressive coronavirus. The number pales poignantly against the 2,510,294 passengers who snaked through airport security lines on the same date last year.

At the same time, airlines have been vigorously cutting their schedules across the globe. Domestic carriers have seen their flights cut by 70% to 90% as the number of Americans who have managed to get tested for coronavirus and tested positive in the process is now crossing the 165,000 mark (and 800,000 mark worldwide).

Yet, you can look up and likely see a plane in the air., which tracks flights around the world in real time, showed some 2,800 flights in the air for the same Sunday traffic.

Despite falling demand for flights and thousands of flight cancellations by the airlines, the real time graphics of airplanes in the air over America shows a map practically buried in little yellow airplane icons. According to comments from, the U.S. market is so large that despite significant drops in traffic there would still be a formidable number of flights crossing the skies. And these flights are not the result of having to maintain slot positions at airports. The Federal Aviation Administration moved earlier this month to waive “slot use” requirements had been  causing airlines to fly empty along some routes to meet minimum-use policies maintained at busier airports around the U.S. – a phenomenon known as “ghost flights.”

Some 16 states representing nearly half the US population have issued orders for residents to stay inside and self-isolate. Some jurisdictions are going so far as to issue tickets to those who are flagrantly ignoring the orders. In one instance, a surfer at a beach south of Los Angeles was fined $1,000 for paddling out against the policies in place. As officials are also clamping down on group gatherings and non-essential travel, planes are flying fairly empty.

And not unsurprisingly, some unbelievable travel deals can be found at this time. CNN reports a flight on United Airlines from its Newark, NJ, hub to Atlanta is available today for $48.40. Delta is offering fares from Atlanta to Chicago for $44.40. Southwest is selling flights from Baltimore-Washington to Los Angeles for $129. And someone who wants to head from Miami to Phoenix can get there on an American flight for $128.    

Meanwhile, airlines continue to extend their forgiveness policies on changes and cancellations as the coronavirus spreads through more populations and remains uncontained. American Airlines, for instance, is

extending its offer to waive change fees for customers who purchase travel through April 30. Customers will have even more flexibility since any ticket purchased by April 30 will not incur change fees prior to travel. The offer is available for any of American’s published non-refundable fares. Additional updates on existing travel alerts can be found on

• Any ticket purchased from March 1 at 4:30 p.m. CT through April 30, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. CT will not incur change fees prior to travel.

• This is available for any of American’s non-refundable published fares.