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UPDATE 1-U.S. screened 2.45 mln passengers Sunday, highest since early 2020

(Adds more details)

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON, Nov 29 (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 2.45 million airline passengers on Sunday, the highest number of daily passengers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the agency said Monday.

The tally was the highest for one day since mid-February 2020. Volume for the 10-day Thanksgiving travel period was 20.9 million, about 89% of pre-pandemic travel numbers, TSA added, and more than twice the volume over 2020.

Despite fears the jump in demand could strain the system, U.S. air travel was relatively smooth over the holiday period, in part due to favorable weather. U.S. airlines have been racing to add more staff and flights to handle the rising number of travelers, offering bonuses and other incentives for current staff.

Airlines are also worried about new travel restrictions that the United States imposed Monday on eight southern African countries that bar nearly all foreign nationals in response to a new COVID-19 variant, and are concerned these curbs may expand to other routes with higher traffic.

On Nov. 8, the Biden administration lifted travel restrictions for fully vaccinated air travelers from 33 countries including China, Brazil and much of Europe.

Airlines for America, an industry trade group, said that in the week ended Nov. 14, U.S. airline passenger volumes were 10% below pre-pandemic levels, with domestic air travel down 8% and international down 25%.

Travel group AAA had forecast 53.4 million people would travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, up 13% from 2020, with most travelers going by car. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Toby Chopra and Bernadette Baum)

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