It’s looking like the worst of the Covid crisis may be over for air travel at local airports.
Two of the three regional airports serving Los Angeles County – Hollywood- Burbank and Ontario International – have now fully recovered from the pandemic lockdown.
Their March passenger counts surpassed pre-pandemic levels recorded in March 2019 by 5% and 4%, respectively. The third regional airport, Long Beach, was not far behind, falling short of March 2019’s level by 7 percent.
Taken as a group, these three airports registered a 1.7% increase in passengers over their pre-pandemic levels. For perspective, just two years ago, during that spring 2020 pandemic lockdown, passenger traffic at these three airports plunged nearly 90% almost overnight.
“We can’t say for sure what the coming months will bring, but the March passenger count shows what full recovery looks like,” Atif Elkadi, the new chief executive of the Ontario International Airport Authority, said in that airport’s monthly traffic report.
The growth has been most pronounced over the past year, with the March passenger count at Ontario up 75% compared to March of last year. Burbank and Long Beach recorded even more robust growth rates over the past year, up 250% and 135%, respectively..
But the region’s biggest airport, Los Angeles International, is still mired in the pandemic-induced slump. The March passenger tally of 5.2 million was down 29% from March 2019, with international travel still down by nearly 50%.
LAX is so big that this shortfall in passengers kept the cumulative passenger total at all four airports – 6.41 million – down 25% from pre-pandemic March 2019.
Yet even here, the trend line is pointing up as the March international passenger count topped 1 million for only the second time since the pandemic began. The first time was in December.
And the overall drop of 29% from pre-pandemic levels was the smallest that shortfall has been since the pandemic hit.
What’s more, the total passenger count at LAX in March was almost exactly double the total from March of last year. The international passenger portion of that was up 206%.
“As the world reopens to air travel, LAX is welcoming back international airlines and nonstop service to destinations around the globe,” Justin Erbacci, chief executive of Los Angeles World Airports, said in a statement.
March saw a nearly 4% drop in total cargo tonnage handled at the four airports compared to March of last year. LAX reported a 3.2% drop to 256,000 metric tons, while Ontario posted a 6.5% drop to 73,000 metric tons. Those two airports handle 98% of the cargo moving through the four airports.
Yet cargo levels are still up substantially from the pre-pandemic era: 23% at LAX and 22% at Ontario.
During the early phases of the pandemic, Ontario benefitted the most as consumers switched to ordering goods online instead of spending them on entertainment and dining.
But as dining and entertainment venues are opening up, consumers are spending a bit more of their cash on those options instead of ordering more online goods, which has resulted in the slight drop in cargo volume at Ontario.