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Turbulence likely to continue at Reagan National

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Turbulent times are likely to continue for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport into the fall, if new data is any indication.

While airports nationally are bracing for an average 16-percent decline in flights in October compared to the same (pre-COVID) month in 2019, the drop-off at Reagan National will be twice as much, according to figures reported Sept. 4 by Airlines for America, an industry trade group.

The association of airlines reports projected flight totals on a state-by-state basis every month; though actually located in Virginia, Reagan National is counted as part of the District of Columbia, and is reported by itself in the rankings.

The projected 32-percent decline in flights for October will be the highest nationally. New York is projected to be down 30 percent and Pennsylvania, Ohio and Oregon each will be down 27 percent.

Those declines, while dramatic, do represent an ongoing – if somewhat inconsistent – rebound from the depths of the COVID crisis. For Reagan National, with its reliance on business and government travel, a one-third decline in passenger totals from the record year of 2019 seems almost positive compared to how things have been over much of the past 18 months.

The arrival of the COVID delta variant (a more easily transmitted if not necessarily more virulent strain of the virus) seems to have cooled the public’s ardor for autumnal air traffic, at least to certain destinations.
Only five states – Idaho, South Carolina, Montana, Utah and South Dakota – are seeing year-over-year increases in flights projected for October.

Virginia airports (not counting Reagan National) will see a 10-percent drop, while those in Maryland anticipate a 23-percent decline, according to the Airlines for America data.

Only two major U.S. carriers, Allegiant and Spirit, have scheduled a substantial increase in flights in October; they are cashing in on tourists seeking low-frills options in what traditionally is a slow time of year for the nation’s travel-and-tourism industry.

Frontier, JetBlue and Southwest will be essentially flat from two Octobers ago, while all other major carriers expect double-digit declines in their aircraft operations for the month.

(Flights flown are just one indicator of how an individual airline or airport is weathering the storm. It does not take into account the passenger loads or the airfares being paid by those who are flying. But is is one way to compare apples to apples nearly two years into the public-health emergency.)

Media attention focused on the delta variant may be one factor that has seen passengers moving through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints down about 20 percent in recent weeks from same-week totals in 2019. Domestic air travel is down about 17 percent, while international travel is down about 43 percent.

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