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U.S. air travelers top 1.5 million for first time since March 2020

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of U.S. air passengers screened topped 1.5 million Sunday for the first time since March 2020, as air travel continues to rebound from a pandemic-related drop, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said Monday.

COVID-19 devastated air travel demand, with U.S. airline passengers down 60% in 2020. But with a growing number of Americans getting vaccinated, demand and advanced bookings have started to rise in recent weeks.

TSA said it screened 1.54 million people Sunday, the highest single day since March 13, 2020 and the 11th consecutive day screening volume exceeding 1 million per day.

Screening refers to security checks on passengers entering airports.

Still, U.S. air travel demand was down Sunday about 30% versus pre-COVID 19 levels. International and business travel demand both still remain weak.

For the last week, trade group Airlines for America said passenger demand was down 47% over pre-pandemic levels, while international travel demand was down 68%. The United States bars most non-U.S. citizens from travel who have been in Brazil, South Africa, China and most of Europe and many countries still restrict entry by Americans.

Last week, U.S. airline executives cited concrete signs of a domestic leisure travel recovery in expressing optimism for demand this summer and said losses were declining.

United Airlines expects to halt its cash burn in March, CEO Scott Kirby said last week, the first major carrier to say it could hit the industry’s milestone.

In January, United said an average daily core cash burn of $19 million in the fourth quarter would likely continue in the beginning of 2021.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Toby Chopra and Jane Merriman

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