US airline traffic, as measured by TSA passenger screenings, has dropped back significantly from recent levels, reaching a low point not seen since May 12th of last year. The pattern of a steady uptick in travel in 2021 has now given way to a continuing slump in early 2022. The impacts of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant, the lack of business travel returning, and uncertainties about the availability of medical care while traveling may be contributing to the drop-off in air travel.
The good news is that the drop-off has not been as steep as in 2020 when the pandemic began and that we are unlikely to see another meltdown in air traffic. The bad news is that traffic is continuing to fall below seasonal variability. The hope in late 2021 that many observers had that a full recovery might come by the second quarter appear to have been dashed by the continuing slump.
The following chart shows the continuing slump in US airline traffic through January 20th, 2022:
The weakness in travel is being reflected in our AirInsight US airline performance index, which has dropped dramatically since the first of the year. The following chart shows our performance index graphically from March 2020, and a clear downward trend can now be seen in the most recent data. The following chart illustrates the continuing slump in US airline performance during January as the pandemic concerns have dampened demand.
If we examine the last three weeks, as shown in the table below, 71% of the data points are red, showing a week to week decline in performance. That level of declines confirms a continuing downward trend in early 2022. Through most of 2021, we were seeing roughly 60% of green data points, showing a gradual improvement in traffic throughout the year. Unfortunately, that trend now appears to have been reversed.
The outlook over the next few weeks appears uncertain. While the Omicron variant appears to be beginning to wane in some areas, we believe that it will take several more weeks before a clear trend to this wave of the pandemic will emerge. Until then, our expectations remain cautious.