Airline shares buck market selloff after TSA screenings topped 1 million, a 7-month high

Key Points
  • TSA screenings topped 1 million on Sunday for the first time since mid-March.
  • U.S. airport screenings this month are still down 65% from a year ago.
  • Airline executives expect a slow and uneven recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

In this article

A traveler wearing a protective mask waits to board a United Airlines flight at San Francisco International Airport, Oct. 15, 2020.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Airline stocks bucked a market sell-off on Monday after airport screenings over the weekend rose above 1 million for the first time since mid-March, a sign more travelers are getting comfortable flying again despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The Transportation Security Administration screened 1.03 million people on Sunday, the most since March 16. That is still 60% lower from a year ago, when 2.6 million people passed through TSA airport checkpoints, showing airlines' pandemic-induced struggles are far from over.

But the figure still represents improvement. So far this month, daily airport screenings are down 65% compared with the first 18 days of October 2019. In April, screenings were down more than 90% from a year earlier.

Delta and United executives last week noted encouraging booking trends but warned investors that a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels, particularly for once-lucrative business travel, is likely years away.

Both carriers posted large losses for the third quarter. American and Southwest are scheduled to report results before the market opens Thursday.

United shares gained 3.9%, while Delta eked out a 0.1% gain on Monday. American and Southwest added 0.8% and 0.4%, respectively. The S&P 500 shed 1.6%.

United CEO: We're hopeful we can get back to cashflow positive in 2021
United CEO: We're hopeful we can get back to cashflow positive in 2021