“It really feels like we’ve come out of the pandemic,” said Chryssa Westerlund, MWAA executive vice president and chief revenue officer. She attributed the gains to airlines increasing service to meet higher demand, mainly from leisure travelers. National team’s earnings last year were particularly notable, with the airline serving 10 million more passengers than a year earlier.
Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for Baltimore-Washington Marshall International Airport, said December 2022 figures were not yet available, although the airport had just over 21 million passengers through the first 11 months of the year. In 2021, 18.9 million passengers flew through BWI. The airport had nearly 27 million passengers in 2019.
Like those in the Washington region, airports across the country grew last year from increased travel demand and increased lodging for lucrative business travel. Many operators reported record revenues despite a spate of cancellations and delays that prompted them to cut schedules as they tried to boost reliability.
Airports were a beneficiary of the travel boom, as passengers spent more on parking, dining and shopping.
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After receiving billions in federal pandemic aid to keep workers on the payroll and provide rent relief to concessionaires, some US airports set records last year. Denver International, Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International and Miami International airports were among those that saw the highest number of passengers on record.
“Not surprisingly, 2022 was the busiest year on record [Denver International]Phil Washington, the airport’s chief executive officer, said in a statement. “The airport benefited from resilient passenger and cargo demand.”
Denver, along with airports in Florida, was among the first to see passengers turn away during the pandemic, in part because of their proximity to the kind of outdoor activities people sought after Americans began traveling again.
National’s gains are an indication that as more people are vaccinated and as concerns about coronavirus infections fade, demand for other destinations is also growing.
Elliott L. Ferguson II, president and chief executive officer of Destination DC, the city’s marketing arm, said in a statement that the record passenger travel “is clearly a step in the right direction” in efforts to boost tourism in the nation’s capital.
According to preliminary figures from Destination DC, about 20 million domestic visitors traveled to the city in 2022, up from 18.8 million in 2021. The end of a travel ban in November 2021 that barred visitors from 33 countries has helped fuel a boom in international visitors. for the District, according to preliminary numbers. In 2022, 1.1 million overseas visitors came to DC, compared to 270,000 in 2021.
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Westerlund said she expects 2023 to be another strong year, especially for Dulles. Unlike January 2022, when airlines were dealing with the effects of weather and the Omicron variant, the first quarter of 2023 is off to a strong start, she said.
“I think we will have a good increase compared to last year,” she said.
Carriers are adding international flights as demand for overseas travel continues to grow. Among the companies set to launch service from Dulles this year is Play Airlines, which will offer daily service to Reykjavik, Iceland, starting in April. ITA Airways is expected to launch service between Dulles and Rome in June. Westerlund said that while leisure travelers have driven much of the recent boom, she expects business travel to increase as workers return to offices.
She also said that the travel industry is seeing new models, such as business travelers taking longer trips who mix business with pleasure as many can work remotely. Days of the week that were traditionally slower, like Wednesday, are now busier, she said.
Lawmakers are increasingly keeping an eye on the industry as they begin discussions on a bill to fund the Federal Aviation Administration — a measure that could include new consumer protections. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who chaired a Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing last week on Southwest Airlines’ latest holiday crisis, sent a letter to the carrier on Thursday seeking more information about handling customers.
However, some of the same problems that have hampered airline reliability, including weather and air traffic control staffing levels, have also plagued airports, including National.
Last May, hundreds of passengers on at least a dozen flights were stranded for hours on planes after storms toppled trees, flooded roads and left thousands without power in the Washington region. The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily suspended evening flights May 22 at National, as well as Dulles and BWI, until conditions improve. At National, backlog left the airport without enough gates to accommodate all arrivals.
Westerlund said the airport is continuing to work with partners to prevent such incidents from happening again.
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