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UPDATE 1-U.S. screens 1.85 mln at airports on Sunday, most since March 2020

·2-min read

(Adds more on flights added, travel restrictions)

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON, May 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it screened 1.85 million passengers on Sunday at U.S. airports, the highest number since March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic slashed travel demand.

The U.S. air industry has been setting a number of new post March 2020 highs in recent days. Sunday's tally is 100,000 travelers higher than Thursday's 1.74 million, which had been the best in 14 months. Still Sunday's demand was about 70% of pre-pandemic air travel on the equivalent day in May 2019.

By comparison, just 253,000 people were screened at U.S. airports on the same day in May 2020.

U.S. airlines have been adding more flights, anticipating rising summer travel demand as more Americans get vaccinated.

On Monday, United Airlines said it would add more than 400 daily flights to its July schedule and increase service to reopened European destinations.

United plans to fly 80% of its U.S. schedule compared with July 2019 – and bookings for summer travel are up 214% versus 2020 levels. It is increasing its domestic network by 17% from its June schedule.

American Airlines said in April it expects to fly more than 90% of its domestic seat capacity compared with summer 2019 and 80% of its international seat capacity compared with 2019, and it will operate more than 150 new routes this summer.

One big question mark remains: When will the United States and Europe ease travel restrictions?

The United States since March 2020 has barred nearly all non-U.S. citizens who have recently been in much of Europe from the United States.

Nearly all of Europe still bans most U.S. travelers from visiting, while Britain allows American visits but requires a 10-day quarantine upon arrival and two COVID-19 tests. (Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Gareth Jones and Steve Orlofsky)