TSA screens over 1 million passengers in single day for first time since March

The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 1 million passengers on Sunday, the highest number of travelers to pass through airport checkpoints since the COVID-19 pandemic devasted the airline industry earlier this year. 

The agency said it screened 1,031,505 people at security checkpoints nationwide, which hasn’t seen that volume since March 17. Fewer than 100,000 people were screened per day in April during the darkest days of the outbreak for the airline industry.

Overall, the TSA screened 6.1 million passengers nationwide during the week of Oct. 12 through Oct. 18. That’s also the highest weekly volume for TSA since the start of the pandemic.  

It called the recent numbers a “noteworthy development,” though the number still remains well below levels in the pre-pandemic era. The passenger volume reported Sunday was 60% lower than what was reported exactly a year ago, the agency said.

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A file image shows a sign reminding passengers to stay 6 feet apart at a screening checkpoint at Orlando International Airport. (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)The Transportation Security Administration has rolled out

Airlines in general are trying to lure passengers back by requiring face masks, stepping up the cleaning of plane cabins, and citing industry claims that transmission of the novel coronavirus on flights is rare.

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One major factor keeping people from flying is the fear they will be seated next to someone with COVID-19, according to a survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Some carriers, like Delta and Southwest, leave middle seats open to put more space between passengers.

Airlines believe rapid virus tests of all passengers before departure could help revive business. United Airlines recently launched a program that can test travelers at the airport for COVID-19 prior to boarding — with results ready in 15 minutes.

The rapid testing is only offered for customers flying from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Hawaii, but the carrier said it hopes to “quickly expand customer testing to other destinations and U.S. airports later this year.”

United said it lost $1.84 billion in the third quarter as the coronavirus pandemic continues to cripple business. The carrier said its revenue plunged 78% from the same period last year — and it is currently losing $24 million a day. 

International air traffic is also down 92% this year as travelers worry about the risk of contracting COVID-19 and government travel bans and quarantine rules make planning difficult.

This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.