Metro Phoenix airport is busier now than before the pandemic

Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is on track for its best year of passenger traffic after setting records in six of the last nine months.

That includes May, according to newly released airport data. A total of 137,336 passengers flew to and from Gateway Airport in May, up 23% from the 111,959 passengers that flew in May 2021, airport spokesman Ryan Smith said.

Last month bested pre-pandemic traffic by almost 5,000 passengers. Airport staff counted 132,614 passengers in May 2019, the previous record for that month’s passenger traffic, Smith said.

More than 1.6 million passengers flew in and out of Gateway Airport in the 2021-22 fiscal year to date, up from 1.1 million in 2020-21 and 1.5 million in 2018-19, before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to documents provided by the airport. Gateway Airport’s fiscal years run from July to June.

“People love the convenience of flying Gateway Airport,” Smith said. “We fly to 60 destinations, and they’re all nonstop (flights).”

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Mesa Gateway’s best month ever

May added to Gateway Airport’s long winning streak this fiscal year, but it wasn’t even the busiest month.

That would be March — not only for the year, but in the airport’s history. That month, the airport saw 239,160 passengers.

That marked an increase of 75,000 more flyers than the same period in 2021 and 14,000 more compared with 2019, documents showed.

March traditionally marks one of the busiest times at the airport because it’s when “sun-seeking visitors flock to the greater Phoenix area for some much-needed respite from cold weather and snowy conditions back home,” the airport’s executive director and CEO, Brian O ‘Neill, stated in his monthly report.

Airlines have added flights from Mesa Gateway Airport

One major reason for the growth in airport traffic is an increase in routes and the number of airlines in service.

Right now, Mesa Gateway offers flights from five airlines. Las Vegas-based ultra-low-cost carrier Allegiant Air is by far the most lucrative airline, flying 1.6 million passengers to and from the airport.

WestJet and Flair, which operated flights from Gateway Airport before the pandemic, resumed their seasonal service to Canada in 2021-22 after operating no flights from Gateway Airport the year prior, documents showed.

Neither has returned to pre-pandemic levels yet. WestJet flew 7,959 passengers in the 2022 season, down from 11,753 in 2019. Flair flew 11,779 passengers this season, down from 13,955 in 2019.

Sun Country Airlines began offering flights from Mesa in November 2021 and currently flies to Minneapolis, Nashville, Tampa and Miami.

Documents also mention Avelo Airlines, which no longer offers flights from Gateway Airport. Avelo had offered service from Mesa to Burbank, California, for three months from May to August 2021 before it ended the route.

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Gateway wants to keep its small-airport feel

The record passenger counts this year highlight the need for the airport to keep up with growth.

Flyers at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport dine at OHSO Brewery on June 14, 2022. The airport experienced record passenger traffic for six of the last nine months, supporting business at the on-site restaurant.

It’s a key focus for airport staff members as they work to increase long-term parking capacity, enhance the terminal and open new restaurants, said Mesa Mayor John Giles, who also chairs the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport Authority board of directors.

The goal is to expand services and improve operations without losing the small-airport feel, he said.

“Right now, we’re making improvements, and we’re doing this with the goal of maintaining the feel of the airport,” Giles said. “It’s a different experience than going to Sky Harbor. It’s convenient, parking is easier and you can save a lot of time.”

Reach consumer travel reporter Michael Salerno at [email protected].

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