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With one analysis suggesting that the business-traveler sector of the U.S. aviation industry may not return in full until 2024, it could still be a long slog for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to get back to its pre-pandemic levels.
But progress is being made, if incrementally.
The airport’s passenger count in July was down 35.2 percent from the same month in 2019, a bloodletting to be sure but showing ongoing improvement from the months not so long ago when passenger totals were down by more than half.
The July figure, representing data from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, was reported Aug. 5 by Airlines for America, an airline trade group.
The organization each month reports passenger counts by state; Reagan National is the only airport counted as part of the District of Columbia, even though it is, technically speaking, part of Virginia.
The 35.2-percent decline in passenger count was the second biggest ongoing dropoff nationally, behind only the 39.4-percent drop from New York state.
States still seeing a major decline in passenger totals from pre-pandemic times include California, Minnesota, Maine, New Mexico and a cluster of six Northeast states, including New York. On the other hand, states that in July saw more passengers than two years before included Montana, Maine, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Mississippi and South Carolina; the territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands reported higher passenger totals, as well.
Airlines, however, are getting less when they fill a seat, with the average airfare down 12 percent from pre-pandemic levels, according to an Airlines for American analysis of data from Airlines Reporting Corp.
The biggest challenge facing Reagan National will be an ongoing dearth of business travel. While some airline executives are expecting to see some rebound this fall, the U.S. Travel Association predicts that business-travel spending will not be back to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
The other big challenges facing the aviation sector at the moment – international travel – is a largely inconsequential piece of Reagan National’s overall picture. The airline does have some flights to and from Canada, but nothing beyond that.
While highly variable depending on destination, international air travel from the U.S. in June was down 61 percent compared to the pre-pandemic summer of 2019, according to the most recent available U.S. Department of Commerce figures.