TSA Sees Spike in Passengers Nationwide as Travel for Thanksgiving Takes Off

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has seen a sharp rise in the number of airline passengers over the past two days as some Americans have started traveling ahead of Thanksgiving.

Daily figures show TSA processed 1,019,836 passengers on Friday. On the same day in 2019, there were 2,550,459 passengers. This decline is almost certainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday was the first day since October 18 that TSA has dealt with more than a million passengers. This is a significant increase from the day before, when just 907,332 traveler were processed. There were 703,135 on November 18.

TSA has processed more than a million passengers on just two days since June 5. The COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in March this year.

The rise in passengers comes after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advised against traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday.

"Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19," a CDC advisory said on Thursday.

"Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year," they said. One spokesperson said that "celebrating virtually" was a better option.

Pre-Thanksgiving rush in Covid era at Phoenix airport: "This is about as crowded as it was before COVID hit," said Ed Westerfield, before boarding a flight to Puerto Vallarta. "This is just jam-packed." https://t.co/0DGcFKvioK

— Evan Pérez (@evanperez) November 21, 2020

The CDC advised people who do choose to travel to take precautions such as social distancing and mask-wearing.

TSA reiterate this advice in a statement to Newsweek, saying: "For individuals who travel we urge that they heed CDC guidance on ways to protect themselves and others during that travel by using face masks, social distancing and frequent hand washing."

Guidance on COVID-19 travel precautions is available on TSA's website. This includes washing hands "directly before and after completing the security screening process."

"We will continue making the checkpoint experience as healthy as possible while executing our security mission," TSA said.

The number of Americans flying is expected to increase as Thanksgiving approaches next Thursday. This time last year, TSA was screening around 2 million passengers a day.

Journalists and social media users have pointed to crowds at airports amid concerns that holiday travel could exacerbate the pandemic. Scenes at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in Arizona were a particular cause of concern on Saturday, with others highlighting relatively sparse crowds at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Georgia and LaGuardia Airport in New York.

NBC Chicago reported crowds at O'Hare International Airport in the city, citing long lines and limited social distancing. Denver Post enterprise reporter Jon Murray tweeted on Friday that Denver International Airport's United Airlines terminal was busier than it was in June. Denver is the largest airport in North America.

A Passenger Enters a TSA Checkpoint
A passenger enters a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint at O'Hare International Airport on October 19, in Chicago. TSA screened more than a million passengers on November 20. Scott Olson/Getty Images