Officials predict that passengers and flights at Salt Lake City International Airport will double by this summer as more people are vaccinated for COVID-19 and seek to relieve cases of cabin fever by traveling.
Currently, about 1 million people per month are flying out of the airport, or just 54% of pre-pandemic levels, Nate Lavin, air service development manager for the airport told the city’s Airport Advisory Board on Wednesday.
By June, he is predicting that will reach about 2 million, or 84% of 2019 summer levels. That is expected to remain about that high or climb a bit through the summer.
“We’ll start to see that in earnest as more people become vaccinated, and that will create what we call a pent-up demand with passenger traffic,” Lavin said.
He said an upward surge is expected to start next month.
Airlines serving Salt Lake City — which just opened the first phase of a $4.1 billion rebuild — have already scheduled 1,778 more flights in March compared to February, with an increase of 248,000 available seats (up about 27%). The bulk of that comes from Delta Air Lines’ hub operation here, which will add 1,161 flights next month.
Delta is continuing to block middle seats through April as a COVID-19 precaution. After that, Lavin expects the number of passengers traveling through Salt Lake City to increase significantly.
“Right now, we’re projecting right around 20 million passengers for the year 2021, which is about 75 percent of what we had in 2019” before the pandemic.
Lavin also said passenger recovery in Salt Lake City has outpaced the national average by “anywhere between 10% and 15%.”
Bill Wyatt, executive director of the airport, has said that’s largely because Utah serves as the gateway to some relatively safe vacation spots — such as national parks or ski slopes where it is easier to socially distance — at a time when personal travel is more important to airlines as the pandemic made business travel largely vanish.
Wyatt also said Salt Lake also benefited because it is a hub for Delta at a time when many airlines have reduced the number of nonstop flights offered to save money, forcing more people to connect through hubs.