Local airports’ climb back from the coronavirus-induced plunge in passenger traffic last spring stalled in November as a fresh surge in Covid-19 cases prompted a new round of travel warnings.

Roughly 2.4 million passengers went through the gates at the four airports serving Los Angeles County — Los Angeles International, Ontario International, Hollywood Burbank and Long Beach — during November.

That was down about 75,000 from 2.5 million passengers in October — the first month-on-month drop in passengers since April. And it was a 70% drop from November 2019’s 8.1 million passengers, matching the percentage decrease in passenger counts between October 2019 and October 2020.

“As the pandemic surges through all regions of California, we are reminded daily of the impact of Covid-19 on global air travel,” Mark Thorpe, chief executive of the Ontario International Airport Authority, said in announcing November’s statistics.

Total traveler volume at Ontario was roughly 212,000 in November, about 5,000 fewer than October after six consecutive months of increasing passenger volumes. The November figure was down 57% from the same month in 2019.

A similar story played out at LAX — by far the region’s largest airport — where 2.04 million passengers went through the gates in November, a drop of 50,000 from October and the first month-over-month decline since April. The November count was down 70% from the same month in 2019.

Hollywood Burbank Airport recorded the largest percentage decline in passengers in November — a 12% drop to 118,000, which was 77% less than November 2019. Long Beach Airport saw its passenger numbers slip by 1,700 to 57,900, which was nearly 82% lower than November 2019.

For the first 11 months of 2020, just over 32 million passengers went through the gates at all four airports combined, down 66% from 94.4 million for the first 11 months of 2019.

Three of the airports were down between 65% and 70%. Ontario was the outlier, down only 53.7%. Ontario has bounced back better than the other airports, thanks in large part to a quick rebound in domestic air travel.

The surge in the pandemic in California appears to have further suppressed passenger counts during the December holiday season, in keeping with the requests from airport and other public officials for people to stay at home as much as possible because the pandemic has worsened.

At LAX, passenger boardings during the two-week period Dec. 13 through Dec. 27 averaged about 33,600 per day, down about 71.6% from the same period in December 2019, according to passenger screening data gathered by the Transportation Security Administration and released by Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that runs LAX.

“We are grateful to see so many people heeding the warnings of our public health officials to avoid unnecessary travel and gatherings outside of their own household,” Justin Erbacci, LAWA’s chief executive, said in a holiday travel update announcement.

The single busiest day prior to Christmas was Dec. 23, with 43,000 passing through TSA checkpoints to board planes at LAX.

For the entire 2019 holiday season — which ran between Dec. 13, 2019, and Jan. 6, 2020 — roughly 5.9 million passengers went through LAX. If the trends for the first two weeks hold steady, about 1.68 million passengers will have passed through the gates during the current holiday season.


As has been the case for much of the pandemic, air cargo tonnage at the region’s two major cargo airports — LAX and Ontario — rose again in November.


At LAX, air cargo tonnage was up 14% in November compared to November 2019 to nearly 228,000 tons. For the first 11 months of 2020, air cargo has risen 5% to 2.2 million tons. A major driver for the increase in air cargo at LAX continues to be shipments of personal protective equipment. But that will likely be supplemented in December with a new Covid-related commodity: vaccine shipments that started to arrive in the second week of the month.


At Ontario, air cargo tonnage rose 13% in November to more than 76,000 tons. For the first 11 months of 2020, air cargo rose 19% to 826.5 tons. The cargo surge at Ontario has been driven by the increased volume of consumer goods purchased online, which are shipped to and stored at a growing number of warehouses in the Inland Empire.


“Commercial freight continues to be Ontario’s lifeblood,” Ontario International Airport Authority’s Thorpe said. “Air cargo carriers are showing their confidence by expanding and modernizing facilities as the region’s reliance on ecommerce grows month after month.”


Indeed, FedEx Express, a subsidiary of Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx Corp., in early November opened a new 251,000-square-foot offloading facility at Ontario International Airport.

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