UPDATE 1-U.S. screens 2.02 mln airport passengers Friday - highest since March 2020

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(Adds TSA comment, background)

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON, June 12 (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it screened 2.02 million passengers on Friday at U.S. airports, the highest number since March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic slashed travel demand.

It was the first time daily U.S. airport passengers screened had topped 2 million since March 7, 2020, the TSA said.

Still, Friday's demand is still just 74% of pre-pandemic air travel on the equivalent day in June 2019, when 2.7 million passengers were screened. U.S. air travel demand has been rising steadily for months as more Americans get vaccinated.

Friday's figure was still 1.5 million more travelers than the same day in June 2020.

"The growing number of travelers demonstrates this country’s resilience and the high level of confidence in COVID-19 counter measures, to include ready access to vaccines,” said Darby LaJoye, a senior TSA official, in a statement Saturday.

Airlines for America, an industry trade group, says domestic travel is down 22%, while international travel remains down 47% as the United States and many other countries continue to impose restrictions on travel.

The White House said this week it is forming working groups with the UK, European Union, Canada and Mexico in a bid to eventually relax restrictions. Airline officials do not think the United States will loosen rules until around July 4 at the earliest.

The lowest screening volume was on April 13, 2020, when just 87,534 individuals were screened at airport security checkpoints, TSA said. The agency notes that at some airports passenger traffic has surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

TSA is still working to fill many TSA screening positions as travel demand rises. TSA plans to hire another 1,000 officers by July 4, a peak U.S. travel period, after hiring 3,000 officers since Jan 1, the agency said in late May. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Chizu Nomiyama)

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