WASHINGTON, Nov 20 (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Security Administration screened 2.24 million airline passengers on Friday, the highest number of passengers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it announced on Saturday.

TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein announced the milestone on Twitter, saying it was the “highest checkpoint volume” since March 2020, when the pandemic took hold in the United States, bringing travel and business to a halt.

Earlier in the week, the TSA said it had expected to screen about 20 million air passengers during the busy Thanksgiving travel period - from Nov. 19 to Nov. 28 - and predicted volumes may be close to pre-pandemic levels.

Major U.S. airlines had predicted an uptick in air travel over the last few days.

Delta Air Lines said it expects to fly up to 5.6 million passengers from Friday through Nov. 30, nearly 300% over 2020’s 2.2 million Delta passengers for the period but still below the 6.3 million passengers during the same period in 2019.

United Airlines said it anticipates more than 4.5 million passengers during the Thanksgiving travel period - about 88% of 2019 volume.

Last week, the Biden administration lifted travel restrictions for fully vaccinated air travelers from 33 countries, including China, South Africa, Brazil and much of Europe. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici and David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)