DFW Airport, Love Field quickly bringing back travelers, but pre-pandemic levels still aspirational

DFW International Airport and Dallas Love Field last year recovered most of the passenger traffic the airports lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, but remain far behind the record-breaking numbers from 2019.

Traffic at the two North Texas airports was 16 million passengers behind pre-pandemic levels, but recovering faster than other airports around the country, particularly in states with more virus restrictions.

Combined, the airports welcomed about 75 million passengers in 2021, roughly as many as just DFW Airport two years ago.

DFW Airport recorded 62.5 million passengers in 2021, nearly 60% higher than the previous year when traveler totals dropped to the lowest levels since the Reagan Administration.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines, which counts DFW as its biggest hub, was responsible for 54 million of those passengers.

That was 12.5 million fewer passengers than it saw in 2019, when more than 75 million travelers went through the airport.

Traffic steadily rebounded throughout last year, with just over 3 million passengers in January to almost 6 million in December.

Similarly, Dallas Love Field saw a 73% recovery in traffic last year compared with 2020. In all, Love Field had 13.5 million passengers depart and arrive, with more than 93% of those on Southwest Airlines flights. Southwest is headquartered at Love Field.

“The recovery of passenger traffic in 2021 was very encouraging for us,” Love Field spokesman Chris Perry said. “While early pandemic predictions for air travel recovery showed a lengthy process, we thought all along we were positioned to see passengers return more quickly.”

North Texas’ airports actually recovered faster than other airports across the country. Nationally, airport passenger traffic was still about 28% — or 238 million travelers — below pre-pandemic highs, according to Transportation Security Administration screening data.

Much of that is thanks to the reliance on larger airports and hubs during the pandemic.

American Airlines has leaned more on its DFW hub as it tries to rebuild its network. Love Field benefits from Southwest’s focus on domestic, leisure travelers.

American Airlines has plans to return flight levels at DFW to pre-pandemic levels of 900 a day this summer, incoming CEO Robert Isom said in January.

DFW even added four new gates last year with the expansion of the airport’s D terminal, all being used by American.

2021′s totals made DFW the second busiest airport by passenger traffic in the US behind Atlanta and fourth in the world behind Guangzhou and Chengdu in China, according to Center for Aviation.

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What the Frontier-Spirit airline merger will mean for Texas travelers

There will be one fewer flying option for travelers flying out of DFW International Airport, Austin Bergstrom or Houston Intercontinental if Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines are allowed to go forward with the $6.6 billion merger announced Monday. Denver-based Frontier plans to buy Miramar, Fla.-based Spirit in an all-stock deal for $3 billion, a combination that would create the fifth largest airline in the country and set up a low-cost rival to the major network carriers in Delta, United, American and Southwest.And travelers out of San Antonio, El Paso and Harlingen could say major changes with Frontier operating out of those airports.

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