For the first time in recent memory, Southwest Airlines Co. became Los Angeles County’s primary airline.
The Dallas-based airline served more passengers than any other airline last year at the county’s four airports. It achieved this by dominating regional airports instead of focusing on the gigantic Los Angeles International Airport.
Approximately 15.4 million passengers flew with Southwest Airlines last year to Los Angeles, Ontario International Airport, Hollywood-Burbank Airport and Long Beach Airport, according to data provided by airport authorities. That’s a 48 percent increase from the 10.4 million who flew Southwest in 2021 and leapfrogged Southwest beyond Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. and Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines Inc. at the first place.
A Southwest Airlines spokesperson noted that this milestone is in line with the airline’s position as the largest air carrier by passenger volume in all of California over the past two decades.
“We have excellent relationships with all four of these airports in partnership to deliver relevant air service for our customers traveling to and from the Los Angeles Basin,” the spokesman said.
Delta and American each had the vast majority of their flights and passengers at LAX, over 90%. But only about 40% of Southwest’s passenger base was at LAX; the other 60% were from Ontario, Burbank and Long Beach. In fact, Southwest is the dominant carrier at the latter two airports, with 67% of all passengers in Burbank and 84% in Long Beach.
While Southwest has long been the largest airline by passenger volume in Ontario and Burbank, the airline is a newcomer to Long Beach, replacing JetBlue as the dominant airline there. JetBlue left Long Beach in 2020 after losing its bid to establish international service there; virtually all of JetBlue’s flight slots ended up with Southwest.
And Southwest isn’t done establishing its presence in Long Beach: The carrier announced last month that it plans new or additional flights from Long Beach this year to several destinations: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Colorado Springs, Colorado; El Paso, Texas; City of Kansas City, Missouri; and Orlando, Florida.
All of this progress for Southwest came despite the airline’s epic nationwide meltdown in late December after a string of winter storms left planes and crews out of position, triggering a cascade of flight cancellations. That collapse impacted December passenger counts at all four airports serving Los Angeles County, stalling the recovery to pre-pandemic levels.
About 6.9 million passengers passed through the gates at the four airports in December, up 8.5% from December 2021. But passenger traffic is actually down year-over-year in Burbank and Long Beach, where dominates the southwest; Burbank was down 6% and Long Beach was down 5%. This is the first time since the pandemic lockdown that any of the airports has experienced a year-over-year drop in passengers and officials with the airports are hopeful the experience won’t be repeated any time soon.
“Although passenger travel was unexpectedly impacted in December, we are on track for a better performance in the coming months,” said Cynthia Guidry, Long Beach Airport Director.
Despite this year-end turbulence, 2022 proved to be a year of strong recovery towards pre-pandemic passenger levels.
Overall, 80.8 million passengers boarded or disembarked from aircraft at the four airports, up nearly 39% from 2021, though still down nearly 22% from 2019’s record 103 million.
For most of the year, Ontario and Burbank surpassed their pre-pandemic passenger numbers, while Long Beach came close.
“We saw strong demand for air travel through Ontario International in 2022 with passenger levels exceeding pre-pandemic levels for the full calendar year,” said Atif Elkadi, chief executive officer of the Ontario International Airports Authority. “Our partner airlines have resumed air services suspended due to the pandemic, adding new routes and increasing flight frequencies to popular destinations, and passengers have shown their preference for our signature customer-friendly experience.”
And while LAX was still 25% lower than 2019 levels, that represented a major improvement over 2021, when passenger traffic was down 45% compared to 2019.
“LAX continues to climb pre-pandemic numbers, reporting a significant increase in passenger numbers in 2022 to 65.9 million passengers,” said Justin Erbacci, chief executive officer of Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX. .
Cargo tonnage at the four airports serving Los Angeles County in 2022 dropped below 2021 record levels as pandemic-induced spikes began to subside.
Overall, 3.66 million tons of cargo were handled at the four airports in 2022, down nearly 7 percent from 2021. About three-quarters of that cargo passed through LAX.
In 2021, LAX saw an increase in cargo tonnage as it became a hub for key supplies such as Covid vaccines. Also, due to huge traffic jams at the ports, shippers with urgent cargo were forced to use LAX.
But last year, port congestion eased and demand for Covid vaccines eased as the pandemic began to loosen its grip.
However, the increase has prompted airport officials to move forward with plans to modernize and expand the capacity of cargo facilities. Developer proposals for this expansion should arrive later this year.
Meanwhile, cargo tonnage at the other major gateway, Ontario International Airport, was down less than 5% in 2022 compared to 2021. Ontario experienced its huge cargo surge in 2020 when i consumers have ordered record quantities of manufactured goods instead of spending money on services such as restaurants and hotels. Last year’s 852,000 tonnes represented a return to more normal tonnage amounts for the airport, which is at the heart of the Inland Empire’s warehouse and logistics hub.