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RSW top in nation for airport passenger recovery during pandemic

Air traffic at Southwest Florida International Airport continues to reach new heights. RSW remains No. 1 in the nation for airport passenger recovery following the start of the global pandemic in March 2020, according to data shared by the Lee County Port Authority. RSW has reached 96% of its passenger count January through August as compared the pre-pandemic levels of 2019. The airports in Phoenix (80%), Fort Lauderdale (77%), Tampa (76%), Orlando, Nashville and Salt Lake City (75% each) were next on the list.

After coronavirus hit, air traffic records at RSW were being set in reverse. They hit low numbers not seen since the records were first kept in 1983. In August, 647,534 passengers traveled through the airport, a record for that month, according to Lee County Port Authority data just released. That’s 180% more air traffic than August 2020 and 23% more air traffic than pre-pandemic August 2019.

“Florida is now a go-to place to go to,” said Mike Boyd of Boyd Group International. His Colorado-based company tracks, analyzes and predicts airport traffic. Boyd also owns a home in Bonita Springs.

“With a lot of the political nonsense going on, there’s no silly nonsense about shutting down,” Boyd said. “It has to do with a lot of things in that area of Florida.”

Southwest Airlines led the way with 155,548 passengers. Delta (129,825), American (113,168), United (98,715) and JetBlue (49,646) comprised the rest of the top five.

RSW has set monthly records for number of passengers over each of the past four months with 946,366 in May, 839,377 in June, 814,471 in July and 647,534 in August.

What’s next?

September traditionally has been the slowest month for air travel at RSW. There are many factors, the two biggest being its rainy season in Southwest Florida, and children are just going back to school across the country.

Since 1983, only one time has September not been the lowest month for air travel during a calendar year: 2020. After the global pandemic began roaring in March 2020, April 2020 had a record low number of 53,379 passengers at RSW. By September 2020, the number had trended upward to 255,926.

In September 2019, there were 460,869 passengers, a record for that month. Given the air traffic activity of the past four months, look for the trend to continue this month. That data should be released in mid- to late October. But also look for new trends to emerge, Boyd said.

“Historically, the numbers mean nothing anymore,” Boyd says. “It’s a whole new airline system. The demographics are changing in terms of who’s flying and who’s not flying. What we’re looking at is the new reality. Florida is now a place where people feel safe to go. Secondly, leisure traffic is now the main driver. Not business traffic anymore. You’re looking at RSW being a gateway for leisure. The past seasonal trends may not be as noticeable.”

Photo courtesy Lee County Port Authority

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