Graham Kilmer

Airport’s Passenger Traffic Down in 2019

Grounding of Boeing 737 Max a key factor. But airport continues to grow, add features.

By - Feb 26th, 2020 11:22 am
Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. Image from the airport.

Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. Image from the airport.

Thanks to a perfect storm of incidents affecting air travel, and a few actual storms, air passenger traffic in and out of Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport was slightly down in 2019 from previous years.

The airport saw a 2.8 percent dip in total airline passengers relative to 2018. But if it weren’t for a number of uncontrollable events, the airport would have seen positive passenger growth in 2019, as Harold Mester, director of public affairs and marketing for Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport explained to Urban Milwaukee.

This past year was the first time since 2015 that passenger traffic at the airport dipped. In 2015 it was barely down, by .07 percent from the previous year. Since then, the airport was averaging 2.7 percent passenger growth year over year.

“There’s always variation,” Mester said. But, in 2019, traffic was pulled down by several factors. The first was the Federal government shutdown, from December 22. 2018 to January 25, 2019, which gouged air travel around the country. Next, there was the polar vortex that hit the Midwest in January, which caused flight cancellations throughout the region. Then in March and April Milwaukee experienced a few snow storms that did the same.

But the most significant event of 2019 for air travel was the nationwide grounding of the Boeing 737 Max jet. Southwest Airlines is the biggest carrier for the airport, Mester said, and Southwest was also the largest operator in the world of the Boeing 737 Max.

Air travel around the country and world was affected by the grounding of the 737 Max. “You’re gonna see that trend continue,” Mester said. The airplane was grounded in March and it remains grounded.

DNC service additions

When the DNC comes to Milwaukee the airport is planning to run a number of additional flights to and from major markets like DC, New York and Los Angeles during the four day convention. Mester said these flights will also be useful for local residents looking to get out of the city during the convention madness.

But, Mester noted, the convention may not actually contribute to a spike in traffic for the airport. He said airports in previous host cities have actually seen a decrease in the passengers at their airports during a political convention. This is likely due to fewer travelers coming to the city for other conventions and meetings. And also, it’s less likely that family members or tourists will pick that week to visit the area.

But, worry not, Mester said. The airport will still be busy, but not overwhelmed. And with the extra service to other cities, “This is a great time to use your hometown airport,” he said.

Service Additions

The airport has added a number of new services in recent years. And has some new ones coming Summer 2020.

Over the past year, the airport has offered daily non-stop flights from Milwaukee to Salt Lake City on Delta Airlines. And both Delta and Alaska have started running daily non-stop flights to Seattle, year-round, Mester said. Milwaukee has also added new markets in recent years to their menu of flights, like non-stop flights to Nashville, Cleveland and Houston.

The airport is also getting some service additions that will run during the summer unrelated to the DNC. Alaska Airlines is adding a second daily non-stop flight to Seattle. And United is adding one from Milwaukee to San Francisco running from June through early September.

New look for the airport

In early 2019, the airport started a process to remodel or replace many of its shops and restaurants. In September that year it opened the first ever Cousin Subs and a third Starbucks. Then, in January this year it opened Summerfest Marketplace, a store selling merchandise from the annual music festival. Still to come this year: a new restaurant called the Garden District Kitchen as a nod to Milwaukee’s garden district neighborhood. Plus, a beer garden will open somewhere in the airport in next month.

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Categories: Transportation

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