Memorial Day weekend traffic at John Wayne Airport shows renewed confidence in air travel

If Memorial Day is the gateway to summer, then things are looking promising for John Wayne Airport, where recently released figures on holiday weekend travel recorded the highest number of passengers since before the coronavirus pandemic began.

Airport officials reported Friday the daily number of trips logged between May 27 and 31 reached levels not seen since January/February 2020, amounting to a nearly 500% increase over last year’s Memorial Day weekend traffic.

As coronavirus cases continue to reach record lows, and as more Orange County residents become vaccinated, confidence in flying the friendly skies appears to be taking off, the data suggests.

A total of 106,379 passengers came through the Santa Ana facility between Thursday and Memorial Day, compared to just 18,283 the previous year. Peak traffic was recorded on Friday, when 25,099 flyers took seats on 218 inbound and outbound flights.

While that represents an increase of nearly 482% above 2020, it’s still shy of the 142,440 travelers seen in May 2019. But it reflects an upward trend officials say has been gaining momentum since March and spells good news that the airport may see a return to near-normal passenger traffic during the typically busy summer season.

Los Angeles International Airport also reported a record number of passengers on the Friday before the holiday, logging some 78,000 travelers, the Los Angeles Times reported. May was a particularly busy month at LAX, where a daily average of 61,400 passengers filtered through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints.

A crowd of Memorial Day weekend travelers check in for flights at LAX at Delta Airlines, Terminal 2 Friday, May 28, 2021.

A crowd of Memorial Day weekend travelers check in for flights at LAX at Delta Airlines, Terminal 2 Friday, May 28, 2021. As coronavirus restrictions loosen, passenger traffic is beginning to reach pre-pandemic levels, airport staff report.

(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

“We are seeing passenger numbers rise quickly as the demand for air travel surges across the U.S.,” Justin Erbacci, chief executive officer of Los Angeles World Airports, said in a statement, “so we want to make sure our guests know they will be returning to an airport that is bustling with travelers and at times experiencing heavy traffic.”

Orange County residents who’ve taken a long pandemic hiatus from air travel — induced by news reports of in-flight altercations over mask wearing and concerns about sitting shoulder to shoulder with strangers at the height of a global pandemic — may notice a few new developments upon their arrival to John Wayne Airport, representatives report.

In addition to the return of the facility’s JWAlive music performances and the AirPAWS therapy dogs, who aim to calm anxious passengers waiting for their departing flights to take off, a new AirPASS program has been recently introduced.

Now, visitors without a boarding pass may register for a one-day security clearance pass that allows access to secure areas of the Terminal, where pass holders can eat, shop, people watch and greet friends and family members at the gate.

To learn more about air travel and programs at John Wayne Airport, visit or call (949) 252-5200.

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