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CIRA Sees Rays of Hope in Steady Leisure Travel

Typically, December is a slow month for business travel at Central Illinois Regional Airport, but this year it was practically non-existent with airport director Carl Olson saying there was “no detectable business travel activity” the final month of 2020.

Air travel has seen marked declines across all market segments due to the pandemic. But with wide swaths of the country working from home, business travel has been hit especially hard. Leisure travel also has been impacted, but Olson says passengers are still departing central Illinois for sunnier destinations--albeit at far lower numbers than a typical year.

Speaking to the Airport Authority during a virtual meeting on Thursday, Olson reported that two routes out of CIRA--Allegiant flights to Tampa and Orlando--outperformed the airline’s systemwide figures for the month of December. Frontier’s route to Orlando also did well, while American Airlines service to Dallas and Delta service to Atlanta both “performed better than we expected,” Olson said. 

Flights to northern destinations put up much softer numbers, largely due to those being business routes. American’s route to Chicago and Delta’s route to Detroit both reported quiet months. Olson attributed the low passenger numbers to significantly reduced service over the holidays and challenging holiday schedules. He said both routes would reflect a more typical schedule in January. 

Still, leisure travel continues to be the dominant market segment, Olson said, and CIRA plans to advance its service to other popular destinations in 2021.

Allegiant will resume its twice-weekly service to Destin, Florida, beginning May 28. Frontier has resumed service to Orlando and will operate that route until mid-May before switching over the service to Denver. Delta plans to add a third daily flight to Atlanta by late spring. 

Olson said that despite brightening prospects for leisure travel, the outlook for business routes remains dim. Delta has warned the airline doesn’t anticipate business traffic to return to 2019 levels until sometime in 2023. 

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Sarah Nardi is a correspondent at WGLT. She rejoined the station in 2024.