Despite Industry Headwinds, PIT Travel Roars Back

Passengers reach highest level since 2019; new routes, increased capacity boost demand

By Evan Dougherty

Published January 23, 2023

Read Time: 4 mins


Despite industry staff shortages and technology issues—along with the lingering effects of COVID-19—more than 8.1 million travelers passed through Pittsburgh International Airport last year, a heady 28 percent jump from 2021.

The numbers for Pittsburgh show that passenger traffic reached 83 percent of its record 2019 levels. Airline capacity, a measure of total seats in the market, reached 85 percent.

Looking to the first quarter of 2023, PIT is projected to reach seat capacity at 98 percent of 2019 levels.

These improvements came despite various challenges that plagued the industry throughout the year. Aircraft and staffing shortages, as well as high fuel costs, restricted airlines’ ability to fully restore pre-pandemic capacity. Travelers also faced major disruptions related to weather and technology infrastructure during the holiday travel period, impacting December traffic nationwide.

Despite concerns of an impending economic recession, airline executives say they will be more resilient than in prior crises due to demand outstripping supply.

“Demand remains strong as passengers return to the skies, and industry returns to the long-term trend to GDP, all while supply constraints continue,” said Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian in the airline’s Q4 earnings call. “I believe our industry will see tens of billions of dollars of incremental demand in the next few years coming out of the pandemic.”

Most airlines reported full-year profits for the first time since before the pandemic started. Industry leaders indicated a shift in travel patterns, caused partly by the companies adjusting policies, has increased overall traffic.

“Demand actually is turning out to be higher than it was [pre-pandemic] because of hybrid work and making many more weekends possible to travel for holidays,” United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby told CNBC.

While domestic travel is close to what it was before the pandemic nationwide, the recovery in international travel demand has been mixed. Demand to Europe, South America and Australia has accelerated with the lifting of travel restrictions.

For the first quarter of 2023, airlines at PIT are projected to reach seat capacity at 98 percent of 2019 levels. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

PIT service additions

Pittsburgh International added, resumed or increased numerous routes—domestically and internationally—throughout 2022, giving travelers additional convenient, affordable nonstop options.

In June, British Airways returned to Pittsburgh with nonstop flights to London Heathrow for the first time since the pandemic paused service on the route in early 2020. The airline returned to PIT with its Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner operating four times a week, restoring passenger widebody service at the airport and a nonstop link to Europe and beyond to the region.

And the airline will grow its London service in 2023. British Airways will add a fifth weekly flight on April 24 and a sixth weekly flight on May 14. This will bring frequency on the Pittsburgh-London route up to daily minus Saturdays by this summer.

PIT also saw its West Coast service bolstered in 2022, providing additional connectivity for Pittsburgh’s tech economy. In March, United restored daily flights to its San Francisco hub while Alaska Airlines added a second daily flight to Seattle for summer. Alaska currently plans to bring back the additional Seattle flight on June 15, 2023.

Pittsburgh also saw ultra-low cost service added to New York City with Spirit Airlines’ addition of daily flights to Newark. Launched in June shortly after the airline celebrated its five-year anniversary at PIT, Newark is Spirit’s latest addition to its Pittsburgh network where it is currently the leading ultra-low cost carrier by passenger volume and total seats.

PIT added to its ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC) portfolio by welcoming Sun Country Airlines’ seasonal service to Minneapolis last summer. Sun Country is one of five ULCCs serving the Pittsburgh market alongside Allegiant, Breeze, Frontier and Spirit. In 2023, Sun Country will double its Minneapolis service from twice weekly to four times weekly when flights resume May 18.

Along with increased service on existing routes, several new and resuming routes are slated to start in 2023.

Breeze Airways will ramp up its Pittsburgh network in 2023 with the launch of new nonstop service to New Orleans on Feb. 3 and Orange County, Calif., on March 31, with both operating twice a week on the airline’s new Airbus A220-300 featuring the airline’s version of first class (Nicest) and extra legroom seating. Breeze’s Orange County service will be PIT’s second nonstop link to Southern California, joining Spirit’s existing daily flights to Los Angeles.

Breeze will also resume nonstop service to Hartford, Conn., (Feb. 3) and Norfolk/Virginia Beach, Va. (May 18)—two routes added when the airline launched PIT in July 2021. The airline will also increase flights to Providence, R.I., to four times a week in March and Charleston, S.C., to five times a week in May.

Internationally, Air Canada will resume its daily flights between Pittsburgh and Montreal starting May 1. The route, first launched in 2018, briefly returned last summer after a pandemic hiatus but was paused in July due to staffing shortages.

Southwest Airlines will add service at PIT for summer travel. The airline will resume its seasonal service to Cancun March 11 and increase service to Atlanta, Denver, Houston-Hobby and Myrtle Beach in July. The additional service will increase Southwest’s PIT network to 28 weekday departures next summer, a 17 percent increase year-over-year.

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