Travelers wearing masks arrive at LAX.

Travelers wearing masks arrive at LAX. Photo by Ringo Chiu.

The rebound in travelers at local airports continued in July, with passenger counts surpassing two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels for the first time. 

But there’s concern this upward passenger trajectory could be stalled by the coronavirus delta variant.

 
The four airports serving Los Angeles County — Los Angeles International, Ontario International, Hollywood Burbank and Long Beach — had 9.8 million passengers go through their gates in July, more than triple the level of July of last year.


And although that total was down 32% from July 2019, it marks the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began that cumulative passenger counts at the four airports have been at least two-thirds of pre-pandemic levels.


Yet the pace of growth slowed in July with passenger counts up 14% in July from June, compared to 21% in June from May and 31% in May from April. This slowing passenger growth in July marked the initial impact of the current coronavirus case surge.


“LAX had several months of strong growth in its passenger numbers from the spring into the summer, peaking around the Independence Day holiday,” said Justin Erbacci, chief executive at Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that runs LAX. “As we conclude the busier summer months, we see that airports and the travel industry as a whole are being impacted by ongoing concerns about the rise in Covid-19 cases across the country.”


Preliminary August passenger data from LAX seems to bear this out.


For August, an average of 77,260 passengers daily were screened at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints on their way to boarding aircraft, according to LAWA figures. That was 62% of the daily average in August 2019, meaning that passenger counts at LAX once again slipped under the mark of two-thirds of the pre-pandemic level.


Erbacci hinted at even more of a slowdown in coming months.


“We continue to watch our numbers closely as some airlines taper off their schedules into the fall,” he said,


For example, on Aug. 26, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. — the No. 4 carrier at LAX by number of passengers carried — announced it plans to cut roughly 190 flights from its nationwide schedule during September and October, citing cancellations of bookings out of concern about rising coronavirus infections.

Smaller airports strong
The three other airports serving L.A. County fared better in July than LAX.


Ontario International Airport performed especially well in July as the passenger total of nearly 495,000 was only 3.4% below pre-pandemic July 2019.


“Ontario International’s recovery from the impact of the pandemic continues at a robust pace,” Alan Wapner, president of the Ontario International Airport Authority Board of Commissioners, said in releasing the airport’s July numbers. “Airlines are showing great confidence in our airport and our strong customer base as the demand for air travel, particularly domestic service, approaches pre-pandemic volume,” he said.


At Hollywood Burbank Airport, the July passenger total of nearly 542,000 was down 19% from pre-pandemic July 2019. But the total was up 22% from June, helped in part by startup Houston-based carrier Avelo Airlines, which made Burbank its West Coast hub when it launched operations in late May.

 
Long Beach Airport saw its July passenger volume of 319,000 fall short of pre-pandemic levels by 29%.

LAX cargo boom
On the air cargo front, it’s a completely different picture at LAX. July’s total of 249,000 tons was up 14% over July 2020 and 29% from pre-pandemic July 2019.

 
According to Erbacci, the increases are in large part Covid-related due to vaccines being transported through LAX.


At Ontario International, however, the cargo boom appears to have crested. July’s 70,000 tons was down 14.3% from July of last year.


Ontario had benefited last year from the pandemic lockdown as deliveries to fulfill online orders surged. 

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