Air traffic still low but climbing as pandemic eases

Enplanements, a measure of the number of passengers boarding a plane, plummeted at Dayton International Airport from 892,414 enplanements in 2019 to 337,517 passenger enplanements in 2020, a 62.2 percent drop, according to statistics provided by the airport.
Enplanements, a measure of the number of passengers boarding a plane, plummeted at Dayton International Airport from 892,414 enplanements in 2019 to 337,517 passenger enplanements in 2020, a 62.2 percent drop, according to statistics provided by the airport.

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Air travel is starting to pick up across the country, a sign that more people are getting COVID-19 vaccinations and restrictions are easing up.

The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 1.3 million people both Friday and Sunday, setting a new high since the coronavirus outbreak devastated the travel industry a year ago. Airlines say the numbers are heading up, with more people booking flights for spring and summer.

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Aviation analyst Jay Ratliff put the recent uptick in travel into context. The average daily number of people who travelled last April ― a few weeks into the pandemic ― dropped from 2.6 million to 87,000, he said.

“That’s how bad travel was, it was down more than 95%. So it’s up quite a bit from then, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Ratliff said.

The number of people passing through airport checkpoints has topped 1 million for four straight days, and the 7-day rolling average is the highest in the pandemic era. However, passenger traffic is still down more than 50% in March compared with the same period in 2019.

Linda Hughes, Dayton International Airport air service administrator, said the local airport generally has mirrored the national trends. Traffic in the area is still down about 50% below this time before the pandemic.

“Things are slowly coming back,” Hughes said.

Local reports come on a delay from the national numbers, but for January 2021, the number of passengers boarding a plane was down nearly 64% compared to the year prior. That’s 21,594 passenger enplanements compared to 59,624 for January of 2020.

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The move comes as a growing number of people are fully vaccinated ― 12.2% of Ohioans ― and as cases and hospitalizations decline, though health officials have still cautioned that we’re not out of the pandemic yet. By March 29, all Ohioans will be eligible to sign up for a vaccine appointment.

People who have cause air travel to increase are flying for leisure and not for business, Ratliff said. However, leisure travelers tend to seek the cheapest fares, and they are the ones that airlines make the least profit from. Additionally, Dayton has lost many of its vacationer customers to budget airlines at nearby hubs.

“Unfortunately, in the case of Dayton, is that Dayton is not a huge leisure airport, because they don’t have the low cost carriers that they want,” Ratliff said.

It’s not just flights that are starting to pick back up. People also are making plans to travel by car, said Lori Comer, office manager at AAA’s office on North Main Street in Dayton. In line with this trend, AAA has been holding events around Dayton to market TSA precheck to people looking to resume traveling.

“We’ve seen an increase in the last few weeks of traffic patterns coming into offices and making plans for future travel this year. So a great sign of travel coming back,” Comer said.

Comer advises that people planning on traveling should do research ahead of time. Some attractions might require reservations as part of pandemic safety restrictions or have different operations than usual.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

By the numbers

1.3 million: People screened by TSA Sunday nationally

2.6 million: TSA screenings this time 2019

Source: TSA

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