Travel Recovery Slows As COVID-19 Cases Grow

TSA reported numbers of people clearing security checkpoints has continued to grow, but the rate of growth has slowed. Monday the U.S. hit 25% of prior year travelers, while Tuesday that dropped back down to 21%. Extrapolating earlier growth rates didn’t make sense.

Perhaps a more useful indicator of the direction things are going is forward bookings. People are traveling today based on tickets that have already been purchased (though of course people can cancel their plans, and airlines have been waiving change fees on most tickets). How many people will travel tomorrow is based on travel purchases.

Overall travel purchases fell for the first time in nine weeks.

US booking numbers declined 6.2% week on week, due to rising COVID-19 infections, after eight weeks of solid week on week growth. There is likely a lot of uncertainty in the market and despite many states beginning to open, the “narrative of COVID-19 in the US has not improved” stated CarTrawler.

Kayak flight search data shows that customers are searching for flights less, too – down to levels last seen a month ago.


The big buildup in American Airlines flying for July focuses on Florida and the Gulf Coast, which looked to be doing well when travel was announced but have since seen significant growth in confirmed COVID-19 infections.

Three months ago I wrote that we should expect a lot less international travel for awhile and I’ve consistently argued that business travel isn’t coming back this year.

It’s going to be the very end of the year (holiday travel) or 2021 before recovery really begins in earnest. We should see much better therapeutics, possibly a vaccine – and sadly, potentially enough spread in the United States by then that the virus could slow down.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. From what I am hearing, you may be a BIT early on when travel picks back up. I think you are looking at April/May of next year before we see travel REALLY pick back up. I think the Xmas/New Years holiday is mostly lost, especially for Americans.

  2. Consider a different perspective to explain this pullback: how many people are so totally upset, as I am, with the overt games played by the carriers in defiance of EU261 and our own FAA/DOT?

    Why are they allowed to deny our lawful full refunds? I am still waiting in total silence from Iberia re my $3,000 BC refund for reservations made this past March for flying in April.

    Why am I forced to be a bank charging no interest on the unlawful grab of my funds?

    With that, I have no appetite to fly to Europe, but to demand the Senate Sub-Committee on Aviation stand up for our citizens: give a drop dead date (soon) to reimburse us in full, or, to lose their landing rights at U.S. airports.

  3. @joelfreak – the holiday may be early, but if virus spread slows, if there are better treatments, if the best case on a vaccine occurs it’s possible. Or people could just travel anyway. I’m not predicting it, just suggesting it’s possible.

  4. No reason to believe airline or bloggers, dependent upon selling their travel related services, that air travel is safe. Just self serving statements. Air travel is not that special. Just wait it out. Logic says wait until vaccine available.

  5. Business travel will be entirely dependent on when countries allow other countries to land passengers without quarantine requirements. Two weeks shut up in London kinda kills a business trip.
    Speaking of London… the Telegraph reports that half of the UK’s coronavirus cases in June came from Pakistan (mirrors HK’s experience). Working back it is likely *a lot*of UK cases came from Pakistan.
    Which rankles those of us with homes and investments in the UK who can’t go there from the US, frankly.

  6. Actually, it was 30 cases that they say came from Pakistan which would have been half of the “imported cases” not half of all the cases.

  7. For we mainlanders Hawaii will be out of reach for the foreseeable future. The negative covid test required 72 hours prior to taking off to Hawaii is a non-starter for a lot of folks who, like me, are not going to book a flight and hotel only to be presented a positive result which means a cancelled vacation. This step was taken, in my opinion, only to appease the business community of the islands. They are demanding a firm restart to the tourist traffic – the bulk of which comes from the mainland. Yet I don’t see this happening any time soon.

    This will be my 21st trip to Hawaii since 1990 – good for me, I know. I am not booking anything to the islands until probably 2022 or thereabouts – or until they get a handle on this covid situation. I can only imagine how the small business people in Hawaii are coping with this situation – if at all. Being so isolated from the rest of the world only serves to magnify the fear and hesitancy that the covid has wreaked on the Hawaiian tourist industry. I wish them only the best but it truly is a damn shame.

  8. This weekend will show a big increase in leisure travel in both airlines and hotels. Trends will slow down mid July before picking up for August and early September. Airports were packed today. It will slow down in the fall unless business travel picks up. But I would guess we will see 1 million TSA passengers at points in August due to leisure.

  9. Flying for work must either mean one is really desperate and/or their boss has zero regard for their life.

    No job is worth the risk.

    What company is going to send anyone anywhere and assume the liability?

    Besides, how much OPM flying is essential. Close to none.

  10. As a pharmacist and have a good understanding of what is going on with the virus, I agree with joelfreak that we won’t see travel picking up until next spring. There is absolutely no way that a vaccine produced in mass amounts will be introduced this year. Only two companies, Astra Zeneca and a Chinese firm, Sinopharm have phase 3 trials and all the rest of the pharmas are in either phase 1 or phase 2. Don’t mean to be a pessimist but vaccine won’t be introduced till 2021. So far there are only 2 medications approved but it’s for inpatient use when you’re critically ill. What we need is medication(s) for outpatient treatment and that’ll turn the tide in the people gaining confidence and traveling more.

  11. End of the year? Huh? We aren’t even likely to have a vaccine by the end of the year. The very end of the year is an aspirational goal but it could be several months after that. You know because we have never had a vaccine developed that fast in history. Also, what do you think that a vaccine is developed and suddenly overnight the risk is gone??? Its going to take quite awhile to vaccinate the US public and that is all assuming we get a workable vaccine and that if we do the anti-vaccine crowd isn’t of a suitable size to make the whole exercise futile. That’s right the anti-vaccine crowd could derail the whole thing and keep the pandemic going even with a vaccine. The chance of travel rebounding in 2021 is an iffy question at this point, but the end of 2020 is a joke. Chances are will be in a second wave of it, because right now we are still in the first wave.

  12. On July 1, my employer extended their ban on travel to client sites through the end of the year, since a lot of our projects are a few years long.

  13. @woolfie The telegraph is the mouthpiece of the Tory party in the UK, just as much as Fox fawns over your pres. So, essentially, right wing

    And to give a little more context: The tory party appears to be in a race to appear more inept than Donny. Just today we learn that the PM’s father travelled to Greece VIA Bulgaria just avoid the travel bans there

  14. It will continue to be bad for the same reason it’s gotten this bad. The government/MSM axis is evil and the general public are ignorant. That is a lethal combination.

  15. god blass ‘murica, land that i love without a mask on.
    july 4, come and git yer hot dogs and ice cold corona

  16. Perfect! The type of response I expect from an individual referenced in my original post. Keep proving me right.

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