While the deployment of COVID-19 vaccinations helped spur a surge in airline travel at the Dane County Regional Airport this year, officials say there’s still a ways to go before the airport returns to the number of passengers and flights present before the pandemic hit.
Over the holiday travel months of November through January, the airport averaged 2,775 flights per month in late 2019 and early 2020. That dropped to 1,330 flights per month in late 2020 and the first month of 2021. However, projections for November 2021 through the end of January show an expected average of about 2,123 flights per month.
Dane County Regional Airport spokesperson Michael Riechers said the ongoing rebound from stagnant airline traffic in 2020 — caused by the ongoing pandemic — is a positive sign for additional growth in 2022. He added that, while some travelers, particularly those who may have held off on hopping on a flight since the pandemic began, still remain uncertain of what restrictions may apply to their travel plans.
“We continue to encourage travelers to check with their particular airline, the CDC, and their destination’s public health office for the most up-to-date guidelines,” he said. “With that said, we’re proud to reassure travelers that the travel process itself, as well as their time spent in airports and airplanes, has proven to be a safe and efficient means of travel.”
While winter weather forced flight cancellations over the weekend in other parts of the country, Riechers said on Monday only a handful of flights out of the Madison airport were canceled by airlines.
Following a record-setting year in 2019, Riechers said the airport’s primary goal remains returning to, and ultimately surpassing, that year’s traffic numbers.
The airport has also seen nonstop destination flights continue to rebound. The number of direct flights dropped from 19 during the months of November through January in 2019 to 10 in that same span last year. The airport currently offers 16 nonstop flights.
Riechers said the airport continues to work with area business leaders and organizations like the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and Destination Madison to secure additional nonstop routes.
“We have seen a strong rebound of nonstop service throughout 2021 and we’re confident 2022 will see the return of several of our favorite routes that were suspended during the pandemic,” he said.
With 60% more flights this year compared to 2020, Riechers said the airport has also seen total available seats increase by nearly 90%, which indicates airlines are sending bigger planes to Madison to accommodate more travelers.
An increase in frequency and capacity also leads to lower ticket prices, he added.
The airport’s total passenger volume fell from about 2.38 million in 2019 to less than 850,000 in 2020. By the end of October 2021, passenger volume had risen to more than 1.1 million.
The airport last year broke ground on a roughly $85 million, 90,000-square-foot expansion — which will add six new gates and demolish three old ones — to the airport and increase overall capacity. Other additions in the project include new retail and restaurant spaces, a business center, children’s play area, adult-accessible changing tables and animal relief area.
As of December, the foundation for the project had been set and the steel structure had begun to take shape, Riechers said.
The airport aims to have the project completed by the summer of 2023.
A Halloween display in Minneapolis receives the first measurable snow of the season as a storm arrived over much of Minnesota Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
A sunflower gets covered in Minneapolis by the first measurable snow of the season as a storm hit much of Minnesota Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
The first measurable snow of the season graces colorful leaves on a tree at peak color, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
A pedestrian crosses a Minneapolis street as the first measurable snow of the season spread over much of Minnesota Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Osseo High School linebacker Michael Azure and teammates practiced outside in the heavy snow in preparation for their Friday night game against Totino-Grace, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Maple Grove, Minn. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)
Atticus Saunders, 13, left, Keller Lindstrom, 10, and Fritz Saunders, 11, make their way through the snow after sledding near Lake Nokomis, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP)
Snow fell over the George Floyd memorial, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Minneapolis. Floyd, a Black man, died after he was restrained during an arrest by Minneapolis police in May. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP)
Members of the Osseo High School team practiced outside in the heavy snow in preparation for their Friday night game against Totino-Grace, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Maple Grove, Minn. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)
Milton DeJesus and members of the Osseo football team practiced outside in the heavy snow in preparation for their Friday night game against Totino-Grace, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Maple Grove, Minn. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via AP)
Jesslyn Phillips, waits for a bus with her daughter Nyarai Weekly, 5, in the snow, Tuesday, Oct, 20, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP)
Snow fell on George Floyd Square at the intersection of E. 38th St. and Chicago Ave. S. Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, in Minneapolis.(David Joles/Star Tribune via AP)
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All-time December highs in the 60s could fall Wednesday for southern Wisconsin, with a storm system featuring high winds accompanying the warmth, according to forecasters.
After a potentially historically warm day across Wisconsin, much of the western half of the state is under a high wind watch for gusts up to 60 miles per hour Wednesday evening into Thursday morning.
The National Weather Service has issued a winter weather advisory for southern and central Wisconsin and a winter storm warning for far northern Wisconsin on Wednesday.
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