Air Travel Is Already Back to Normal in Some Places. Here’s Where.
In Florida, Key West International Airport is busier than normal, while Miami International has half the passengers as before the pandemic.
In the West, airports in major cities – San Francisco, Portland, Seattle – serve a fraction of the typical volume of their travelers, between 24% and 46%. However, the smaller regional airports, near Jackson Hole, Wyo and Colorado ski resort, have passenger volumes up to 12% higher than last year.
This pattern is typical throughout the country, new data are analyzed in detail. The major airports at the junctions have only a fraction of the travelers currently doing last year, even when Americans are returning to flights, especially to holiday destinations.
“You see the airports in Colorado, Montana and Key West have recovered a lot,” said Kevin Williams, a Yale economist studying air travel data. “And then you have a lot of big cities that are still quite down.”
Has collected detailed Transport Safety data tracking how many people travel through airport checkpoints. It shows that, with millions of vaccinations daily and states restricting pandemic restrictions, Americans are returning to leisure travel in large numbers.
However, airports serving major cities still serve far fewer travelers than at the beginning of last year. The Washington National, near the District of Columbia, has reduced passenger volume by 70%. San Francisco International serves a quarter of its typical volume, and New York’s Kennedy Airport is about a third.
This may in part reflect the slower return of business travel. These hub airports also tend to have many international flights, which are expected to take longer to recover. In addition, many urban leisure attractions – Broadway theaters in New York, the Smithsonian Museums in Washington – remain closed due to the pandemic.
A few dozen smaller airports, where travel thrives despite the growing number of virus coronations nationwide, appear to fall into two categories: those that are particularly close to outdoor vacation destinations and those that serve communities whose residents are more willing to travel in through a pandemic.
“The only thing different is the masks,” said Richard Strickland, director of Key West International Airport, who has flown five times in the past five months. “We are now busier than in 2019.”
Idaho Falls Regional Airport is about two hours from Yellowstone National Park, which attracted many visitors last year. The airport’s passenger volume is now 80 percent higher than it was last year – a stronger recovery than at the state’s largest airport, Boise, which is about 60 percent of its normal travel volume.
Two other airports serving Yellowstone, one in Wyoming and the other in Montana, returned to full pre-flight volume in early March.
“By the end of the summer and until the fall, we were seeing almost the same numbers we had in 2019,” said Rick Cloutier, executive director of Idaho Falls Airport. “We were lucky recipients of people’s desire to get to the wonderful countryside.”
Volume of passengers returned to normal at Canyonlands Field Airport in Utah, near Arches National Park. On the Gulf Coast of Florida, airports near beaches have a similarly good year. There were 24 percent more passengers passing through Northwest Florida Beaches Airport in early March than at the time last year.
Airports at an outdoor holiday destination remained particularly empty, however: Hawaii airports fell between 51% and 84% in passenger volume. The state, which has had relatively few Covid cases, requires guests to take a negative test within three days of the trip or quarantine for 10 days upon arrival, making the trip there more complicated. The longer time spent on a flight can also frighten potential passengers.
The willingness to travel by plane may also vary from city to city. Americans reacted differently to strategies to minimize the spread of the pandemic by wearing masks and limiting time outside the home to different levels.
“It seems to fill up when not everyone else is there,” said Steve Gleason, executive director of Provo Municipal Airport. Its airport is small – usually about four flights a day – but busy. It is not very close to any national park.
Passenger traffic is 2% lower than last year, while Salt Lake City International, an hour away, remains below 40%. Mr Gleason says most of the recovery has to do with passengers traveling to see family through the pandemic or with students attending Brigham Young University, who are taking classes in person this semester.
“Most of our traffic is family traffic. “They kept flying,” he said. “It all seems to close quite steadily for two or three months and then everyone got it again.”