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In-Depth: Air travel returning to Northeast Ohio; Hopkins ahead of national average compared to 2019

Local airports see most passengers since pre-pandemic
Cleveland Airport
Posted at 5:53 PM, Mar 25, 2021

BEREA, Ohio — Whether a good thing or not, long lines wrapped around the pre-screening area at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport Thursday afternoon as many continue to head out for spring break.

During a Cleveland City Council transportation committee meeting, airport director Robert Kennedy shared cautiously optimistic numbers showing a resurgence in passengers at the airport.

“Forty-four out of the last 51 days, they have been the best days we’ve had in a year,” he said. “Yet we’re only at 50% of where we were at the same time in 2019. Our summer may come back. Certainly, the vaccine and people are getting access to the vaccine [helps]. ”

Outdated magazines remind travelers that some shops remain closed and the pandemic is still not over.

Pre-pandemic, Kennedy told city leaders the airport usually credentials about 7,000 employees. Because of the slow recovery, he said many of those jobs have not returned.

“At Cleveland Hopkins, we’ve lost 3,200 jobs in a year,” Kennedy said. “By all measures, the previous year has been the hardest impact on all of us.”

At the Akron-Canton Airport, local leaders said their data shows nearly 10,000 passengers for the month of March. That’s a 63% drop compared to March 2019, but well better than the 85.3% decline in June 2020 compared to June 2019.

On Thursday, United Airlines announced they’re adding more flights from Cleveland. Beginning Memorial Day Weekend, United will add non-stop flights three times a week to South Carolina including Charleston, Hilton Head Island, Myrtle Beach, as well as Pensacola, Florida and Portland, Maine.

“We’re seeing more light and we’re seeing some recovery,” Kennedy added.

As far as travel expertise goes, it’s hard to beat Art Nittskoff, president of Gamble American Travel, and a veteran of the industry for nearly 40 years.

News 5 spoke to Nittskoff last May, after travel all but shut down completely.

“I’ve got people trying to book for next spring break asking is it going to be safe," Nittskoff said in 2020.

Fast forward a year, and he’s noticing quite the change.

“People really want to start traveling again so we’re getting a lot of calls,” he said. “Between now and Easter, I've got dozens and dozens of people going to Mexico and Punta Cana.”

Nittskoff credits some of the resurgence to many who received an airline credit as opposed to a full refund.

“What happened is a lot of people that got canceled last year when everything shut down is they were given incentives to not get a refund,” he said. “If they wanted to book again, they had until December 15, 2021 to book. So they had over a year and a half to book. And they were given a 25% bonus on top of what they paid. So a lot of customers just kept their money in the system, and now if they spent $4,000 last year on a family vacation to an all-inclusive, now they have $5,000.”

During a budget hearing in February, Kennedy estimated that Cleveland Hopkins International Airport would handle anywhere from 5.2 million to 5.9 million passengers, a far cry from the projected 10.5 million projected at the beginning of 2020, but still better than the four million the airport processed during the pandemic in 2020.

“We’re recovering at about 49% of our 2019 traffic, while the rest of the country is 44%,” he said.

As more and more become fully vaccinated, leaders hope to possibly exceed their latest projections.

“We’re excited about what summer may hold,” Kennedy added.