The pandemic-stricken year of 2020 was the worst for DFW International Airport in more than three decades, far outpacing all other economic disasters since the airport opened in 1974.
The 39.4 million passengers who got on and off planes at the airport last year was the smallest number since 1985, a startling sign that shows just how much of a setback the COVID-19 pandemic caused for the travel industry and how much it continues to hurt.
DFW counted 35 million fewer passengers in 2020 compared with a record-setting 2019 – a 48% decrease.
The last time DFW Airport saw such low passenger volume was when Ronald Reagan was president, the U.S. had a positive trade deficit and the original Back to the Future was the top movie in America. At that point, today’s dominant carrier at DFW, Fort Worth-based American Airlines, shared terminals with Northwest, Continental, US Airways, TWA, Pan Am and Eastern Airlines — airlines that have all disappeared with mergers and bankruptcies.
2020′s setbacks for air traffic was much worse than other disastrous years for airlines, including the years after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the 2008 recession and other years of economic uncertainty, global war and political turmoil.
“It is important to note of all the major international hubs and gateways DFW saw the smallest decline and year-over-year passenger traffic,” DFW Airport CEO Sean Donohue said at the airport’s board meeting Thursday.
The setbacks have been hard on businesses that operate at the airport.
Even in December, the busiest month of the pandemic for airlines so far, food and beverage sales at DFW were down 45% from a year earlier and retail sales decreased 56%. Airport officials are working on a plan to give businesses another round of rent relief, a plan that has cost the airport $71 million so far and would cost another $48 million to extend through September, when there is hope for an uptick in flying.
Likewise, Dallas’ Love Field saw its worst year since 2006, a statistic muddled by the fact that carriers at that airport could only fly to states contiguous to Texas until 2014.
Love Field’s traffic dropped 54% last year to just 7.6 million passengers, a loss of more than 9 million passengers getting on and off planes.
But both DFW and Dallas Love Field actually outperformed much of the industry in 2020.
DFW was the second busiest airport in the country behind Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson International Airport, the hometown hub for Delta Air Lines. Traffic at the Atlanta airport fell 61% last year, and DFW spent several months as the world’s busiest airport by several measures early in the pandemic.
The other airports that usually outrank DFW – Los Angeles International and Chicago O’Hare – both saw passenger traffic drop by about two-thirds in 2020. California and Illinois are among the most aggressive states in enacting restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus, including testing requirements and quarantines.
It helps that DFW and Dallas Love Field are major stronghold airports for two of the nation’s largest airlines in Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines.
American, a hub-and-spoke airline, pushed even more traffic into DFW in 2020 as it moved to cut costs with less point-to-point flying.
“The strongest parts of our network, all of our core connecting hubs in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix, Miami, Philip, will continue to be that way … with larger-gauge airplanes we can operate there much more efficiently,” American’s chief revenue officer Vasu Raja said in the company’s earnings call last month.
More than 88% of all traffic going through DFW last year was on American Airlines.
International travel plummeted at DFW, tumbling 64% year over year as fear of the coronavirus and travel restrictions pushed passengers away from venturing abroad.
U.S. travelers are still unable to visit many parts of the world, and anyone returning to the states is now required to test negative for COVID-19 and quarantine for three days. Meanwhile, airline executives are pushing back against White House talks of requiring testing to fly domestically.
With passenger traffic still down about 65% in most of the U.S., according to Transportation Security Administration statistics, airline analysts and executives are delaying their expectations for a significant boost in traffic until later this year and into 2022.
— to www.dallasnews.com