US airline traffic showed a February upswing with a notable difference between the first half of the month and the second half. February traffic for the first 14 days averaged 1,534,641 passengers per day while traffic for the last 14 days averaged 1,931,646. This is largely attributable to a reduction in Covid-19 cases, businesses returning remote workers to offices, and a more upbeat outlook in most of the United States. The question now is whether this recovery will continue, and when international traffic might resume.
The impact of the war in Ukraine may impact the return of international travel, particularly in Eastern Europe which is closer to the front lines. Irrespective of traffic, the war has now replaced Covid-19 as the lead story on the evening news, a sign that the pandemic is waning. With some states removing mask mandates (although not yet for airports and airlines) and loosening testing requirements, the fears associated with the pandemic appear to be subsiding.
The following graph shows daily traffic through February, and the February upswing in the last half of the month is quite noticeable, as the red line has moved upward and now overlaps the blue 2019 levels that it was previously below. While a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels has not been achieved, this is the closest we have come since the beginning of the pandemic. The question now is will it continue through March. The intelligence we’ve been able to glean on forward bookings indicates that the February upswing may continue through March.
For those who like numbers, the following table shows our index through February 27th, and a positive trend in recent weeks. With the majority of days showing growth and the weekly average of our index rising 6.3 points over the last three weeks, the February upswing is reflected in our analytics.
March typically shows a seasonal upswing above February levels. We are expecting upward momentum in passenger traffic to continues as the pandemic wanes, but the question is to what level. Our projections, based on inputs regarding advanced bookings, indicate that the gap will continue to narrow in March and April, but will likely not reach 2019 levels until the peak summer season, with leisure travel outpacing the slower than the hoped-for return of business traffic.