Record 3 million passengers passed through TSA checkpoints on Sunday

Agents with the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 3 million passengers at U.S. airports on Sunday, a record number underscoring the popularity of air travel this year.

Exactly 3,013,413 flight passengers stepped through TSA checkpoints, surpassing the previous record of 2.99 million set on June 23. Sunday was a one-day record, but TSA officials said 2024 has been a historic year all around. Nine of the 10 busiest days in TSA history have happened this year, starting on May 25 when agents screened roughly 2.9 million travelers. 

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement Monday that TSA agents, in “an extraordinary achievement,” effectively checked-in 35 passengers and their luggage every second during an intensely busy weekend. 

Prioritizing lasting memories 

One reason TSA agents experienced the record volume is because Americans are prioritizing making memories from traveling with friends and family, one aviation industry expert told CBS MoneyWatch. 

During the pandemic, so many Americans got up close and personal with their own mortality,” said Peter Greenberg, travel editor for CBS News. That completely changed their purchasing patterns; people said they don’t need new cars, new clothing, the newest electronic device, they want to buy experiences.

A March survey from NerdWallet found that nearly half of Americans plan to travel by air this summer either to visit friends and family or vacation with them. Many of those surveyed said they’re even planning on going into debt to cover those travel aspirations.  

In a separate report from American Express, 77% of the 2,000 people surveyed said they care more about the right travel experience than about the cost of the trip. In that report, 72% of respondents said they would rather save money for a major trip than spend it on going out with friends.

Americans this year have been ignoring the price of flights and deciding to take trips because they’re uncertain if they’ll have enough money to do so in the future, Greenberg said. 

“They’re basically saying, ‘Screw it, let’s just go,” he said. “And they’re going everywhere.”

Flight fares dip slightly

Another reason TSA has seen record screenings might be flight prices, which had dipped slightly during the holiday weekend. 

The average cost of a domestic plane ticket during the July 4th weekend was $315, down from $347 a week prior, according to price tracker Hopper. The average flight fare this summer is $305 compared with $324 last summer and $313 in 2018 — before the pandemic. Flight tickets were 2% cheaper during the holiday compared with Independence Day fares in 2023, according to AAA.

The TSA was created in November 2011 after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The agency replaced a collection of private security companies hired by airlines to do passenger screenings. 

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