The air travel industry has slowed dramatically since the World Health Organization announced the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. Now more than six months after the pandemic was declared and the economy took a downturn, U.S. airports are beginning to see more traffic.
However, as major U.S. airlines continue to announce huge layoffs of tens of thousands of airline workers, it’s clear there’s still a long way to go before the number of travelers gets back to what it used to be. In addition, restrictions are being put back in place in many areas and some of the airports that seem to be recovering may not be able to maintain that trend.
We decided to dig into the latest U.S. Bureau of Transportation data to find out how well the 30 largest airports in the U.S. were recovering after the first wave. Looking at the number of departing passengers from previous months and comparing them to more recent dates gave us a good idea of the progress that was being made as the air travel industry continues to grapple with the impact of the pandemic.
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The worst hit airports
Looking at the most recent data available from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation, we narrowed down the findings to the 30 busiest U.S. airports. We then compared the number of departing passengers on domestic flights on U.S. carriers between June 2019 to June 2020. This let us see the percentage of change between the months of June for both years. Then we ranked the top 15 airports by the biggest percent decline in departing passengers.
Overall, New York City airports topped the list with LaGuardia Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport, and Newark Liberty International Airport placing first, second, and third. Because New York and New Jersey were two states that experienced strict statewide lockdown orders, it makes sense that their biggest airports would see a dramatic decrease in passenger traffic. New York and New Jersey continue to require a 14-day quarantine for any travelers coming to these states from states with a higher spread of COVID-19 (as of Oct. 14, 2020).
It isn’t particularly surprising to see other airports on this list that are located in populous areas, including San Francisco International Airport and Boston Logan International Airport. Air travel nearly stopped overnight around the country, so the largest airports would typically be the hardest hit.
Although airports like Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport aren’t as busy as larger airports, they were still hit with a staggering decline in passenger traffic. Hawaii is known for its heavy reliance on tourism but has had to push back reopening to travelers multiple times over the past six months. Salt Lake City was in the middle of building a new airport when the pandemic started and Salt Lake County, where the airport resides, was under stricter stay-at-home orders than other parts of the state.
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Airports that were recovering over the summer
To see which airports were experiencing the fastest recovery for passenger traffic, we looked at publicly available data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation, specifically reviewing data for departing passengers on domestic flights flown by U.S. carriers at the 30 busiest airports in the U.S.
We looked specifically at data from April 2020, when flights were at their lowest, and compared that against June 2020, which was the most recent month available. We again looked at the number of departing passengers on domestic flights on U.S. carriers to see the percentage of change as we moved from April to June 2020. We ranked the top 15 airports by the biggest percent increase in departing passengers.
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15. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
Departing passengers April, 2020: 190,038
Departing passengers June, 2020: 998,875
Increase in departures: 425.62%
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14. Boston Logan International Airport
Departing passengers April, 2020: 35,451
Departing passengers June, 2020: 195,526
Increase in departures: 451.54%
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13. San Diego International Airport
Departing passengers April, 2020: 36,877
Departing passengers June, 2020: 209,490
Increase in departures: 468.08%
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12. John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City
Departing passengers April, 2020: 23, 103
Departing passengers June, 2020: 134, 135
Increase in departures: 480.60%
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11. Tampa International Airport
Departing passengers April, 2020: 39,960
Departing passengers June, 2020: 238,226
Increase in departures: 496.16%
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10. Orlando International Airport
Departing passengers April, 2020: 66,502
Departing passengers June, 2020: 406,860
Increase in departures: 511.80%
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9. Miami International Airport
Departing passengers April, 2020: 41,727
Departing passengers June, 2020: 258,773
Increase in departures: 520.16%
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8. Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport
Departing passengers April, 2020: 44,011
Departing passengers June, 2020: 274,203
Increase in departures: 523.03%
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7. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Departing passengers April, 2020: 26,701
Departing passengers June, 2020: 173,092
Increase in departures: 548.26%
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6. Newark Liberty International Airport
Departing passengers April, 2020: 24,984
Departing passengers June, 2020: 166,791
Increase in departures: 567.59%
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5. Denver International Airport
Departing passengers April, 2020: 122,131
Departing passengers June, 2020: 837,863
Increase in departures: 586.04%
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4. LaGuardia Airport, New York City
Departing passengers April, 2020: 19,113
Departing passengers June, 2020: 133,272
Increase in departures: 597.28%
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3. McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas
Departing passengers April, 2020: 59,886
Departing passengers June, 2020: 474,247
Increase in departures: 691.92%
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2. Baltimore/Washington International Airport
Departing passengers April, 2020: 34,804
Departing passengers June, 2020: 348,157
Increase in departures: 900.34%
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1. Chicago Midway International Airport
Departing passengers April, 2020: 30,693
Departing passengers June, 2020: 338,884
Increase in departures: 1004.11%
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What to know if you plan to fly
A recent FinanceBuzz travel survey found that 49% of Americans don’t plan to take a flight for at least a year, but 16% hope to travel by plane before the end of 2020. To prepare for travel after COVID-19, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Masks: Masks are required for air travel, including at the airport and on the plane. Some airlines, such as United Airlines, have recently tightened their policies regarding face coverings to remove any possible loopholes, like taking off your mask to eat or drink and then slowly eating or drinking during the entire flight so you don’t have to wear a mask. United’s policy now says, “All travelers are required to wear face coverings during their entire flight.”
- Hand sanitizer: To help promote sanitation, the Transportation Security Administration is allowing one 12-ounce liquid hand sanitizer container per passenger in carry-on bags. This is larger than the standard 3.4-ounce liquid containers typically allowed. This may also result in additional screening at security checkpoints.
- Airport lounges: Airport lounges are starting to reopen, though the experience will be different. Pre-portioned or packaged food may replace the buffet option in certain lounges, and face coverings and social distancing measures will be required. But if you have one of the best travel credit cards, you may once again be able to take advantage of complimentary access to Priority Pass lounges and/or Amex Centurion Lounges.
- In-flight service: In-flight food and beverage services will vary by airline and are constantly changing, but prepackaged snacks and meals have been commonplace since the pandemic began. Some airlines may also have temporarily suspended food and/or beverage services or reduced capacity for them.
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