Graham Kilmer
Transportation

Mitchell Airport Traffic Rebounds Dramatically

Passenger traffic up 1,368% in April compared to the same month last year.

By - Jun 3rd, 2021 10:22 am
Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. Image from the airport.

Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. Image from the airport.

Air travel out of Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport is finally rebounding after a nearly 70% decline in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the start of 2020, passenger traffic through the airport was strong — nearly 1 million in the first two months of the year. The 2020 Democratic National Convention and the promise of thousands of travelers from around the world was on the horizon.

Then COVID-19 arrived in Wisconsin and passenger traffic declined in March, then bottomed out in April.

The number of passengers that traveled through the airport in April 2020 fell by nearly 96% from April 2019. Major airlines were down to just a handful of flights a day.

But in 2021, the airport saw a 1,368% increase in air traffic in April compared to 2020.

Air travel has slowly been picking up since April of last year, a dire month for the airline industry. But travel really started to rebound in March, as the rate of COVID-19 vaccination was increasing.

The airport does a monthly survey of passengers, Harold Mester, director of public affairs and marketing told Urban Milwaukee and it’s seeing definite increases in confidence to travel. The airport does still have COVID-19 protocols, like a mask mandate in place. There is a federal mask requirement in place at all transportation facilities that receive federal funding.

The airport is still a little behind where it was at this point in 2020 in terms of total passenger traffic, but that’s because the first two months of last year saw travel still unaffected by the pandemic. At this time in 2020, the airport had already seen approximately 50% of all the passengers it would have for the entire year.

Mester said the year-to-date numbers will certainly surpass those in 2020. “This summer should be a lot busier,” he said. A number of airlines have already been announcing new flights out of Mitchell in recent months.

Along with new flights, travelers will notice some new additions to the airport itself since before the pandemic. Not all the restaurants have returned, but the airport does have some new stores and food options, like the new Summerfest Marketplace and the Garden District Kitchen and Bar.

Right now leisure travel is driving growth in air traffic, Mester said. “We’re not seeing much recovery in business travel,” he said. But in the long run, he expects business travel to return, despite the increased use of video and teleconferencing, given the competitive advantage face-to-face meetings have on the sales side of business.

As air traffic continues to grow, the airport is trying to capture a larger amount of air travel by local residents so that it can attract more service to Milwaukee.

Airlines go where the passengers are, Mester said. So the airport can’t increase service out of Milwaukee unless more passengers start flying out of Milwaukee. In 2019, the airport launched a local marketing campaign encouraging Milwaukee area residents to choose their hometown airport.

Meaning they should pick Milwaukee over a certain city to the south. “We don’t want people flying out of an airport that makes them look like a Bears fan,” Mester said.

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