Passenger traffic at L.A. airports is inching back up, and charters at LAX have grown 8% year over year.

Passenger traffic at L.A. airports is inching back up, and charters at LAX have grown 8% year over year. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

Passenger traffic at three of the Los Angeles region’s four airports continued to climb back in August from the coronavirus-induced collapse, reaching pandemic-era highs. 

But the percentage declines from last year’s peak summer travel season showed little improvement from July, revealing how far Los Angeles International, Ontario International and Long Beach airports still have to go to reach prepandemic travel levels.


August passenger traffic at LAX reached a Covid-era high of 1.7 million. But that was down 79% from August 2019’s 8.1 million passengers. The airport saw a 77.5% decline from July 2019 to July 2020.


For the first eight months of 2020, a total of 20.9 million passengers went through LAX, down 65% from the first eight months of 2019. 


The year-to-date picture is slightly better than the August comparison because air travel was robust in January and February before the pandemic lockdown.


In a preliminary look at September figures, Val Velasco, vice president of the Board of Airport Commissioners that governs LAX, said at the commission’s Oct. 1 meeting that the Transportation Security Administration screened an average of 31,000 passengers per day, about 2,000 more per day than the August average.


But she noted that figure was a 72% drop from September 2019.


“The September numbers point to a continued slow return of travelers to our airports but also remind us that we have a tall hill to climb to get back where we were before the Covid-19 pandemic,” Velasco told the board.


At Ontario International Airport, 196,000 passengers went through the gates in August — a pandemic-era high. But that was off 61% from 504,000 passengers in August 2019. The airport experienced a 63% drop in passengers from July 2019 to July 2020.
Total passenger count at Ontario for the first eight months of 2020 was 1.7 million, down 52% from the first eight months of 2019.


Long Beach Airport saw nearly 44,000 passengers in August — its highest level since March. But that represented an 87% drop from the 325,000 passengers in August 2019, which matched the percentage decline recorded from July 2019 to July 2020.
Year-to-date, 744,000 passengers went through Long Beach Airport, down 63% from 2 million in the first eight months of 2019. 


Hollywood Burbank Airport had not released August passenger statistics as of Oct. 1.
As has been the case for several months now, international passenger traffic fared worse than domestic travel. 


At LAX, the international passenger count in August was just over 222,000, down 91% from August 2019’s 2.43 million passengers. And at Ontario, a mere 3,389 international passengers went through the gates in August, down nearly 87% from August 2019. Both percentage drops closely matched the declines from July 2019 to July 2020.


There were small bright spots for the three airports. One was domestic travel at Ontario, which recorded a Covid-era high of 193,000 travelers, down 60% from August 2019’s 478,000. 


That’s the third-smallest year-over-year decline at any U.S. airport, according to statistics from the Ontario International Airport Authority.


“While we eagerly await the return of our customers in greater numbers, we are heartened by the pace of our recovery at Ontario,” Mark Thorpe, chief executive of the Ontario International Airport Authority, said in the release.


Another bright spot was the increased number of charter passengers at LAX. In August, 1,009 charter passengers flew into or out of LAX, compared with just four in August 2019. That jump put year-to-date charter traffic in the black with 5,879 passengers, an 8% increase compared to the same period last year. 


The rise is a silver lining from the pandemic, as more high-net-worth passengers are opting to avoid the perceived higher coronavirus risk of commercial air travel.
While passenger counts continue to languish at the region’s airports, air cargo tonnage has been surging at both LAX and Ontario. 


LAX recorded 214,000 tons of air cargo in August, up 8.5% from August 2019. For the first eight months of 2020, there were nearly 1.54 million tons of air cargo at LAX, up nearly 1% from the same period last year. 


Air cargo had dipped significantly in the early months of 2020 as the coronavirus swept through China, closing factories there. But cargo traffic has recovered robustly since May, thanks in large part to increased emergency shipments of personal protective equipment.


At Ontario, air cargo was up 7.5% to 72,000 tons in August compared to August of last year. But for the first eight months of this year, air cargo shot up 18% to 585,000 tons, compared to the same period last year.

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