Spring Break surge? Air travel up, Visitors with "the wrong intentions" flock to Florida

The highest number of passengers on a single day since March 15, 2020, were screened almost a year later by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Last Friday, the TSA reported screening 1,357,111 people at airports that day. Is air travel picking up again?

It’s not a coincidence that the increase is being seen in the midst of the Spring Break season. The coronavirus pandemic looks to finally be leveling off in most places and a sharp decline in hospitalizations and positivity rates are giving people hope that the worst is behind us. Thanks to the distribution of vaccinations underway, there is less risk in traveling among strangers now, as long as precautions are in place. Get a vaccination, wear a mask, and travel is not the high-risk exercise it was a year ago. This is good news for the airline industry. It’s been a tough year for them.

Air travel in the United States hit a low point on April 14, 2020, with only 87,500 passengers going through TSA checkpoints. Travel for 2020 was down more than 60% from the previous year to 324 million passengers, according to the TSA. The TSA screens passengers at 440 airports in the U.S.

The reduction in travel has hit airlines hard. U.S. airlines lost more than $35 billion, combined, last year because of low passenger traffic. Airlines were forced to slash flights, block off seats, and implement safety measures in response to the pandemic.

It’s not time for airline executives and furloughed employees to pop the champagne bottles yet. The numbers for air travel are still not back to normal. Friday’s numbers were still 20% lower than the number of passengers on the same day last year. That number is down nearly 38% from 2019. Americans are still being asked to stay home, or at least close to home, and not start traveling yet. Safety mandates are still in place in many states. Florida is being vindicated for its policies from the beginning of the pandemic when more authoritarian measures were being taken in other states that completely locked down. Tourism is picking up and some mayors are sounding the alarm. Their message is simple – don’t come to Florida thinking you will run wild. The Mayor of Miami Beach is dealing with Spring Breakers. Rules are still in place.

Friday marked the wildest day in the party hotspot as about 120 people were arrested and two police officers were injured during clashes with the revelers, Local 10 News reported.

“It is really a difficult situation,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said of the weekend debauchery.

“A lot of people are coming here and they are coming here with the wrong intentions,” he said, according to another report from the outlet.

The city is under a midnight curfew amid the pandemic.

Unruly partiers are turning on the police as they make arrests. Some officers have been injured. Pepper balls have been deployed to disperse crowds. On Saturday about 30 people were arrested. The mayor warns that the arrests will continue. Miami Beach police describe the situation as large crowds drawing larger crowds to gather. The mayor promises visitors will have a “terrible time” if they abandon measures in place.

“What happened was a large crowd gathered at some point in time there were people that went ahead and walked into the crowd started throwing up money into the air causing a larger crowd to gather,” Miami Beach Police Chief Rick Clements told CBS Miami.

“We’ve got too many people coming, we’ve got too many people acting out and we have COVID at the same time, so it’s a triple threat,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told CBS Miami. “If you’re coming here to disrupt then it’s not worth the money to us. It’s not worth the revenue. You cannot pay our community to endure the kind of inappropriate and improper conduct that we’ve been seeing.”

“If you’re coming here because you think anything goes, you’re going to have a terrible time. We’re going to arrest you. We’ve made hundreds and hundreds of arrests,” Gelber said.

Spring Break crowds are often wild as students blow off steam. It’s nothing new that arrests are made. During a pandemic, though, public officials are concerned about public health risks involved with visitors who may want to pretend there is no pandemic anymore. The virus is fading but it is still with us. State and local restrictions are a mixed bag. The City of Miami Beach has a state of emergency declaration in effect until March 17 which includes emergency measures like a midnight curfew. The state does not have a mask mandate. Restrictions have been lifted on restaurants and other businesses. Miami Beach law enforcement will not fine people who are not wearing masks.

Tourists are flocking to Florida because many states are not open yet. Airfares are cheap so more people than usual are heading there. In order to mitigate the spread of the virus, police presence has increased, open alcohol containers are banned and there are capacity limits on beaches. The Mayor of Miami Beach criticizes Governor DeSantis for lifting face mask restrictions. There were spikes in coronavirus cases after Spring Break in Florida last year and the mayor is concerned it will happen again by young people not acting responsibly. He includes not wearing masks as part of that behavior. “There is no question that irresponsible activity creates hospitalizations and death.” There is less risk outdoors than indoors without a mask. Limiting capacity in outdoor spaces like the beaches and continuing to social distance as much as possible seems a reasonable way to go.