Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport’s rebound continues to roll on, benefiting in part from federal regulations requiring airlines to use their takeoff and landing slots at the close-in airport.
Passenger boardings in April were down 11.4 percent from April 2019, according to Transportation Security Administration data analyzed and reported May 7 by the Airlines for America trade group.
Not a great result when compared to the last available pre-pandemic April, but far better than the 50, 60, 70 and even 80 percent dropoffs seen during the early part of the COVID surge.
Airlines for America reports the monthly data on a state-by-state basis; Reagan National, though located in Virginia, counts as the lone District of Columbia airport in the ranking.
For the first 18 months of the COVID era, a combination of limited to non-existent business travel and a dearth of tourism to the Washington region kept Reagan National as one of the airports most impacted by lower passenger counts. But in September 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration reimposed lose-them-or-use-them restrictions on takeoff and landing slots allocated to airlines using the airport during peak periods.
Those slot restrictions had been put on ice during the first period of COVID.
That return of slot rules forced airlines to bring back service to pre-COVID levels in order to ensure they could keep them over the long term. For the second quarter of 2022, in fact, the number of scheduled flights at the airport is slightly above pre-pandemic levels.
With those extra seats to fill, some airlines at National cut ticket prices to attract travelers, even though nationally, prices have been surging, particularly now that the cost of jet fuel has reached an all-time high.
While Reagan National still has a hole to crawl out of in order to regain its pre-pandemic levels, it is now in better shape that neighboring Maryland, where TSA passenger counts for April were down 22.8 percent – one of the largest state dropoffs in the country. (In Virginia, not counting Reagan National, passenger counts were down 5.1 percent compared to April 2019.)
California is still down 17.7 percent in passenger totals, while New York remains down 17.3 percent. Some of that decline can be attributed to a still-sluggish international-travel market.
For April 2022, six states – Montana, Idaho, Arizona, Utah, Florida and Tennessee – reported higher passenger counts than April 2019.