Pittsburgh International Airport saw a significant jump in passengers last year as the airline industry recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than 6.3 million passengers passed through PIT in 2021, up 74.1 percent from the year prior. In the month of December alone, total passengers were up 162.8 percent versus 2020.
Those gains might be expected, given the near-collapse of the industry at the start of the pandemic in 2020. But even more encouraging is that last year’s passenger totals recovered to 65 percent of 2019 numbers, including nearly matching 2019 in some of the busier travel months.
As the industry recovered, airlines scrambled to add back staff and return aircraft fleets from storage to meet the rise in demand. Losses incurred by carriers dwindled, with some returning to profitability at various points throughout the year.
Leisure travel led the way, which caused airlines to add capacity to popular sun markets. Destinations such as Florida, the Caribbean and ski markets in the mountain west recovered the quickest of any region.
Industry executives and professionals expect leisure demand to continue rising through 2022.
“People have not traveled as much since the pandemic began,” said Bijan Vasigh, an aviation consultant and professor and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. “They are upset, they have cash now and they will try to travel this year.”
Business travel, which has been slower to recover, is showing signs of a rebound. Industry experts remain optimistic but also predict that business travel will look different as companies adjust their policies. Similarly, international travel has recovered slower than domestic travel. Airlines are bullish on international demand, citing that the easing of travel restrictions will cause a huge spike in demand to destinations abroad, including Europe.
British Airways will resume nonstop, year-round service between PIT and London-Heathrow Airport on June 3 that will be operated by a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. (Photo by Evan Dougherty)
In December, British Airways announced it would resume its nonstop service between PIT and London Heathrow Airport. BA, which previously launched the route in April 2019, will bring the service back after it was suspended due to pandemic travel restrictions in early 2020. Flights will resume on June 3, operating four times a week on the airline’s state-of-the-art Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
“As the restrictions fall off, we expect international travel to pick up considerably. We still expect business travel to come back in full, but it will come back in a different way,” American Airlines president Robert Isom said in the airline’s fourth quarter earnings call.
“And by that, I mean the overall mix of business customers, how they travel and how we serve them. As we have shared previously, small and medium-sized business travel remains the strongest segment.”
Air service additions
Pittsburgh International added a host of new flights and destinations in 2021 resulting from the return to air travel. In all, 21 new routes were launched or announced throughout the year, giving travelers more options to visit destinations quickly and affordably.
The industry’s trend toward leisure travel resulted in the airport seeing a host of leisure destinations added by multiple carriers.
Breeze Airways launched service to PIT in July offering nonstop, low-fare service to four cities. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)
The airport welcomed the arrival of start-up carrier Breeze Airways in July, with new nonstop service to Charleston, S.C., Hartford, Conn., Norfolk/Virginia Beach, Va. and Providence, R.I. The Salt Lake City-based airline was founded by David Neeleman, who previously launched carriers such as JetBlue, Westjet and Azul.
Ultra-low cost carrier Allegiant continued its expansion at PIT by adding numerous leisure routes. The airline began nonstop, seasonal service to Norfolk/Virginia Beach and Key West, Fla. in June. It also launched seasonal service to Phoenix-Mesa, Ariz. in August and year-round flights to Melbourne, Fla.
Southwest also grew its Pittsburgh network by resuming old routes and adding new service. The airline added new service to Sarasota, Fla., Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Miami and Austin, Texas. Southwest also resumed existing service to Houston-Hobby, St. Louis and Cancun and Dallas Love Field.
Legacy carriers also added service to leisure markets. United added service to Charleston and Hilton Head, S.C., Pensacola, Fla. and Portland, Maine last summer and resumed weekly service to Fort Myers, Fla. American, meanwhile, began Saturday-only flights to Orlando in June and resumed service to Phoenix in August.
Other routes announced last year are scheduled to launch in 2022.
Minneapolis-based budget carrier Sun Country Airlines announced in October that it would launch summer-only service from PIT to Minneapolis/St. Paul. Service will launch on June 2 and operate on Thursdays and Sundays.