Passenger counts higher at airports

Until 1966, jet aircraft were banned at National Airport in an effort to funnel more traffic through Dulles. (Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority)

Passenger counts at Ronald Reagan Washington and Washington Dulles International airports in 2019 were each up from a year before, with Reagan National returning to near-record performance, according to new data.

A total of 48.8 million passengers traveled through the two venues last year, according to data reported Feb. 19 by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

That’s up 2.5 percent from 2018’s final count, and includes both scheduled service and the much smaller totals for general aviation and military flights. (Counting only scheduled service, the year-over-year increase was 2.6 percent.)

Year-over-year growth was higher at Dulles, rising 3.1 percent to 24.8 million, although that total remains below the all-time record of 27 million set nearly 15 years ago when dominant carrier United Airlines was fending off a challenge from upstart Independence Air, which enjoyed a brief boom before collapsing in early 2006.

The growth from 2018 to 2019 at Dulles was heaviest in the international sector, which rose 4.6 percent to 8.4 million passengers for the year, or more than one-third of the total. The airport’s domestic-passenger count of 16.3 million was up 2.6 percent from a year before.

At Reagan National, the total of 23.9 million passengers for 2019 was up 1.8 percent, effectively tying the all-time record set in 2017. The vast majority of passengers at Reagan National are taking domestic flights, with about 400,000 more headed to Canadian destinations.

The year-over-year growth came despite issues with the bedeviled Boeing 737 MAX, which was pulled from airline fleets due to safety concerns and caused challenges for some airlines in finding aircraft to fill the gap.

There was no suspense over which airlines were dominant at the two airports for 2019: American Airlines retained its top position at Reagan National (which it inherited after merging with US Airways) and United Airlines was the dominant carrier at Dulles.

Year-over-year data for December show a healthy holiday season, with 4.1 million passengers traveling through the two airports for the month – up 7.9 percent from a year before and nearly evenly split between the two facilities.

At Reagan National, American, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines showed year-over-year increases in December, while United and JetBlue posted declines. At Dulles, increases were reported by United, Delta, Air France, British Airways and Lufthansa, with declines reported by American, Southwest, Frontier Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

The region’s third major airport – Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall – saw an increase in passengers of 9 percent to 2.38 million for the month. Spirit Airlines, Delta, American, British Airways and dominant Southwest all posted increases, while United and JetBlue reported declines.

While final data won’t be available for another month, the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics estimates that the nation saw a total of 925.5 million airline passengers in 2019, up 4.1 percent from 2018 and the highest on record.

Data from the nation’s 1,270 commercial airports for 2019 are still being compiled by the federal agency, but in 2018, BWI ranked as the nation’s 26th largest airport in terms of passenger enplanements, Dulles 29th and National 30th. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was the nation’s largest, a distinction it almost assuredly will retain once the 2019 figures are finalized.

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