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Pandemic cuts MSP Airport passenger traffic by 62% in 2020

Planes that did fly were carrying fewer passengers, with the aircraft load factor- the percentage of occupied seats- dropping as low as 10% at some points.

MINNEAPOLIS — The COVID-19 pandemic has spared few, and among those hardest hit is the airline industry.

The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) reported Friday that total traffic at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport fell to 14.9 million passengers during the 2020 calendar year, a 62% drop from 2019. 

MAC reports 244,911 aircraft operations (takeoffs and landings) at MSP in 2020 versus 406,076 in 2019, a decline of about 40 percent.

Planes that did fly were carrying fewer passengers with the aircraft load factor- the percentage of occupied seats- dropping as low as 10% at some points during the pandemic. Load factors continue to trend lower as many airlines are blocking seats to improve passenger safety and maintain distancing. 

“We experienced the largest drop in air travel demand in aviation history in 2020. It will take years to recover,” said Brian Ryks, CEO of the MAC. “December 2020 brought some of the busiest travel days since the pandemic began, but still far below normal. We hope to see a significant increase in demand in the latter half of 2021, particularly in leisure travel, as the COVID-19 vaccination program moves forward. It will likely take longer to see meaningful recovery in the business and international travel sectors.”

December ended 2020 on an up note, with passenger levels peaking around Christmas with a pandemic record of nearly 22,000 passengers clearing MSP checkpoints December 27. While marking a high point in a dark year, the total number of passengers for the month (1,079,757) was still down 66% from the 3,221,082 passengers screened in December 2019.

Kyle Potter, the executive editor of Minnesota-based Thrifty Traveler, said the numbers are a sign that airlines really can't get back to normal until vaccine distribution is widespread.

“There is no way for travel to recover without the vaccine," Potter said. "Airlines have tried; there’s been hope that testing alone would be able to fix this and allow people to be able to resume travel somewhat close to normal, and I think it’s just clear that’s not going to happen.”  

To boost traveler confidence and ensure health and safety, airport officials have launched the Travel Confidently MSP program. It includes:

  • Face mask requirements
  • Promotion of social distancing
  • Installation of hundreds of hand sanitizing dispensers
  • Development of hundreds of Plexiglass barriers at all major customer interaction points
  • Pre-booked parking that allows for a touchless transactions when reserving and paying for parking spots and entering or exiting MPS facilities. 

MSP notes that the airport has earned GBAC STAR™ Facility accreditation and the Airport Health Accreditation, both which require the highest standards in facility cleanliness, safety and operational measures.