Flights, passengers near pre-pandemic levels at John Glenn – The Columbus Dispatch

After a couple of turbulent years caused by COVID-19, passenger traffic at John Glenn Columbus International Airport is nearly back to where it was before the pandemic and is recovering faster than many of its peers.

And passengers flying out of John Glenn have more places to travel than they did before COVID-19.

John Glenn reported 692,343 passengers in June, the most recent available data, according to the Columbus Regional Airport Authority, the agency that operates John Glenn and Rickenbacker International Airport. That was up 20% from June 2021, but down about 11% from June 2019, before the pandemic.

For the first six months of 2022, the airport had nearly 3.6 million passengers. That’s a 55% increase from the same period in 2021, but down 15% from the 2019 period.

Traffic at Rickenbacker, which is a fraction of that at John Glenn, is down slightly through this June compared with 2019.

Allegiant Air, the major passenger carrier at Rickenbacker, had 147,467 passengers this year through June, a decline of 3% from 2019, but up 9% from 2021.

“Any airport that’s up in destinations from pre-COVID times is definitely in a good place and headed in the right direction,” said Kevin Schorr, vice president with Campbell-Hill Aviation Group near Washington, which provides economic and regulatory support for airlines, airports and aviation interests and has done consulting work for the Columbus airport authority.

Passenger traffic at John Glenn has come back faster than many other medium- and large-sized airport that saw passenger counts drop 20% to 30% below where they were in 2019, he said.

The addition of low-cost startup airline Breeze Airways that began offering service from John Glenn a year ago has helped the airport, he said.

“Columbus is doing fairly well,” he said.

Delays, cancelations rise as travelers return to airports

Air travel fell quickly when the pandemic hit. Airlines cut routes and staff and other workers retired.

The flights that were scheduled at John Glenn carried hardly any passengers.

Traffic at John Glenn fell 96% in April 2020 from the prior April and nearly all the retail, beverage and food places in the airport shut down.

But demand for travel has come back faster than many analysts and airlines expected, and the industry didn’t anticipate the rush of people cooped up from the pandemic who wanted to travel.

“There’s been a lot of issues with delayed and canceled flights,” said Kimberly Schwind, spokeswoman for Ohio AAA. “Luggage has been lost or damage.”

Schorr said when the industry was largely shut down in 2020 everyone had a different opinion about what to expect going forward.

“No one knew what was going to be the impact of all this,” he said.

Despite the return of passengers, air travel still isn’t a smooth ride. With the rebound in traffic has come weather delays and air traffic control staffing shortages, resulting in frustrated customers over the summer.

From May 27 through Labor Day, 11,541 flights were scheduled from John Glenn, according to Flight Aware, a global flight tracking company. Of that number, 353, or 3%, were canceled and 2,290, or 21.9%, arrived to their destinations late.

The cancelations from John Glenn were the 80th worst among the biggest 100 airports during the period, but similar to other airports in the region including airports in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.

Weather problems and congestion this summer throughout the Northeast where there are major hubs were likely responsible for some of those cancelations and delays, Schorr said. Staffing challenges faced by the nation’s air traffic control system, especially in Florida, also contributed.

Schorr said there have employment constraints throughout the entire industry ranging from airport concessions and people working on the ramps and towers, to pilots, that have caused problems throughout the year.

Schorr said he was on a flight recently in which there was no one to unload the luggage once the plane reached its destination.

Fixing the situation won’t happen overnight, and could even take a few years, he said, given the capital costs of the industry.

The airport authority acknowledged that it has been dealing with the same employment issues as others in the industry.

“Like everyone else in this labor market, it’s taking us longer to fill roles,” Shannon Fitzpatrick, the airport authority’s chief people officer, said in an email.

Ike Reynolds, owner of Reynolds Travel, said most of the complaints he gets have been over big city European destinations such as London. There also have been complaints about the high costs of car rentals, a fallout from rental companies cutting back on their fleets during the pandemic, he said.

“We’re not hearing complaints about John Glenn,” he said.

The fall should be better for passengers since some airlines have cut their flight schedules, he said.

“People, I think, have gotten the message to depart for the airport early to make sure you get checked in on a timely manner,” he said.

Schwind said AAA recommends that passengers seek early morning flights that are less likely to be delayed and to try packing just a carryon. Also, she suggests buying travel insurance in case the trip is interrupted or there is damaged luggage.

Passengers have more destinations to choose from

Meanwhile, passengers leaving Columbus have access to more direct flights now than they did before the pandemic.

The two airports now offer nonstop flights to 48 destinations, up from 46 before the pandemic and 35 destinations a decade ago, including new service offered by Southwest Airlines to Austin.

The airports are now served by 10 airlines that offer about 120 average weekday departures with about 13,700 seats.

Among the additions is startup Breeze Airways operating out of John Glenn and a new flight to Austin offered by Southwest Airlines and the resumption of daily service to San Francisco from United Airlines.

Breeze is serving several cities from John Glenn, including Hartford, Connecticut; New Orleans; Charleston, South Carolina; and West Palm Beach, Florida.

While the number of passengers at the airports is largely back, the airlines they are flying on has changed.

Southwest, United Airlines, Frontier and Delta Air Lines are transporting fewer passengers than they did in 2019, though more than they did a year ago. Spirit and Alaska, both newer airlines for John Glenn, are flying more.

Southwest is the biggest carrier at John Glenn, carrying about a third of passengers. American Airlines has about a quarter of the passengers followed by Delta and United.

John Glenn expanding services to passengers

The airport has partnered with Vohnt, an on-demand valet service that will allow travelers who park in the main parking garage to have their vehicles detailed and serviced while they travel. The service took its first customers this week. Beyond detailing, the services include oil changes, tire rotation, wiper replacement and topping off the gas tank.

Travelers can book service at vohnt.com before arriving at the airport or book at the Vohnt kiosk in the walkway to the terminal that is attached to the garage. Once serviced, vehicles are available for pickup in Vohnt’s parking on the on the fourth floor next to short-term parking.

The airport also is planning to open a 2,800-square-foot lounge in Concourse B near Gate 32 later this year.

The Escape Lounge −The Centurion Studio Partner will offer food, a bar and coffee service. Travelers will have access to power outlets, Wi-Fi, printing services and magazines and newspapers for eligible travelers.

American Express Platinum Card, Business Platinum Card and Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card members will receive complimentary access to the lounge.

The authority also continues to progress on its effort to build a new terminal to replace the current structure that dates to the 1950s. The terminal is expected to be built in phases and is years away. The new terminal is expected to cost more than $1 billion.

mawilliams@dispatch.com

@BizMarkWilliams

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