2021 proved a comeback year for the region’s three passenger airports, but remained well below pre-pandemic traffic levels, according to new federal data.
Figures from the Federal Aviation Administration show that the biggest return to service came at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, which at 9,253,561 enplanements last year rebounded to 70 percent of its year-end 2019 total of 13,284,687.
Washington Dulles International Airport, which relies more than BWI on international travelers, rebounded to 61 percent of pre-COVID enplanements, a total of 7,227,875 compared to 11,884,117 in 2019.
At Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, the rebound was 58 percent, or 6,731,737 enplanements in 2019 compared to 11,595,454 in 2019.
When comparing 2020 to 2021, all three airports posted increases: 70 percent at BWI, 87 percent at Dulles and 88 percent at National.
The increase in Reagan National was due not simply to the huge drop-off in traffic that occurred for the months following COVID’s arrival in March 2020, but also because the federal government in September 2021 restored its use-them-or-lose-them rules on coveted takeoff and landing slots at the flight-controlled airport.
As a result, carriers had to bring back more service to the airport in the last quarter of 2021, and offered travelers incentives to fill those planes.
(The gambit has worked; officials with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority recently announced that traveler figures at Reagan National in April 2022 were above pre-COVID levels. Dulles was getting there but had not attained that distinction.)
For 2021, BWI ranked 22nd nationally in passenger totals, according to FAA data, with Dulles 28th and National 29th. In 2019, it was BWI 22nd, Dulles 25th and National 26th.
For 2021, the top five busiest airports in the nation were Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson (with 36.7 million enplanements), Dallas-Fort Worth International (30 million), Denver International (28.6 million), Chicago-O’Hare (26.4 million) and Los Angeles International (23.7 million), with the major airports in Charlotte, Orlando, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Miami rounding out the top 10.
In 2019, the ranking was Hartsfield-Jackson (53.5 million), Los Angeles International (42.9 million), O’Hare (40.9 million), Dallas-Fort Worth (35.8 million) and Denver (33.6 million), followed by John F. Kennedy International, San Francisco International, Seattle-Tacoma, Las Vegas’s McCarran International and Orlando International.