Air travel is the busiest day in the months before Memorial Day weekend

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The TSA announced on Saturday that it had screened more passengers at US airports Thursday and Friday than at any time in the past two months. This is only a modest improvement, but crucial to the chances of the US travel industry recovering.

The number of travelers passing through airport control reached 318,449 on Thursday and 348,673 on Friday, compared to more than 2.6 million passengers each of the same days a year ago.

It was the first time since March 23 that the TSA screened more than 300,000 people and the first time since March 25 that the percentage of these screenings had exceeded 10% of the figures from the previous year. The lowest point occurred on April 14, when fewer than 88,000 people were screened, just 4% from a year earlier.

Even with modest gains in recent days, the percentage of people screened since early April is only 6% of those screened a year ago.

The plunge in air travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the recommendation that Americans avoid all non-essential travel for much of the spring has caused financial disaster for many businesses.

People fly again ... sort of

Car rental company Hertz ((HTZ), which derives two-thirds of its revenue from airport rentals, filed for bankruptcy on Friday evening. The country’s airlines reported more than $ 2 billion in losses in the first quarter, and forecasts for the current period are likely to be much worse.

Still, with all of the states allowing at least some companies to reopen in recent weeks, there are signs that Americans are planning to travel again.

Delta ((DAL), United ((UAL) and South West ((LUV) Airlines announced this week that they have seen signs of improved bookings, and all have started to cut some flights to their July schedules, compared to deep cuts of 80% to 90% in May and June.

For the first time in 20 years, AAA has not released travel plans for Memorial Day, saying it cannot trust the accuracy of the economic data it uses due to the coronavirus crisis .

But AAA said its own online bookings have been increasing since April, albeit modestly, suggesting that traveler confidence may improve.

“The saying goes that the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Americans are taking this first step toward their next trip from the comfort of their home by researching vacation opportunities and speaking with travel agents, ”said Paula Twidale, Vice President, AAA Travel. “We find that the Americans show a preference and an inspiration to explore all that our country has to offer as soon as it is safe to travel. “

When passengers finally fly, they will find a much different environment on planes than before the crisis.

Crew members will wear masks and other protective gear, and airlines have requested that passengers also wear masks. Passenger temperature checks may also be underway soon, as fever is a symptom of Covid-19. Frontier Airlines has announced its own plans to check the temperatures of its passengers, while other airlines are waiting for the TSA to announce its own procedure.

Some carriers, including Delta and Southwest, say they reserve a limited percentage of their seats on each flight, keeping the central seat empty to allow social distancing. Others, like United, allow passengers to rebook flights if an airplane is fuller than they feel comfortable flying.

Even with a majority of aircraft stuck and dark cuts to all airlines’ schedules, the limited number of passengers this weekend indicates that there is plenty of space on most flights.

– Gregory Wallace and Pete Muntean of CNN contributed to this report

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