© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Airport Traffic Improvement Amid Uncertainty

CIRA sign under blue sky
Passenger traffic through the Central Illinois Regional Airport improved again in July, but remains sharply down from last year.

It's hard for airlines to plan what flights to keep or drop right now.

Not only has the pandemic cut off most airline traffic, the passengers who do fly are playing it tight.

Fran Strebing, the deputy director of the Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA), told Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority board members Tuesday night that vacationers are waiting until the last minute to buy tickets.

"We are definitely seeing leisure traffic with very short booking windows. People are making decisions, holding off vacation decisions whether to drive or fly very shortly before they book," said Strebing, adding the effect is airlines have trouble deciding what routes to fly.

"The airlines are struggling to control capacity and trying to determine what to put back in and take back out based on very little advance purchase," said Strebing.

Those decisions are more important now, when overall passenger traffic is so low. Strebing said the Bloomington airport did have a small increase in traffic in July. A lot of the progress continues to be flights to Florida. But Strebing said the improvement is relative to the previous month, not the same month last year before the pandemic.

"For the month, the airport was down 65% overall in total passenger traffic. That, of course, was actually a better result than June which was down 75% and May which was 85% down," said Strebing.

April was the pandemic low point for passenger traffic at CIRA, down 98% from the same month a year ago.

Airport officials spend a lot of time trying to figure out whether the airlines will keep flights.

"Delta as an airline is keeping their loads at 60%. They have pledged to do that, not indefinitely, but I believe, through September," said Strebing.

When a jet is only 60% full, it's hard to make money flying that route.

Strebing said American Airlines cut some flights from Bloomington to Chicago, then brought them back in July, pulled back out, and now says it will bring them back in September. Strebing said the on-again, off- again schedule hurts traffic because passengers can't plan.

Strebing said the Allegiant average load factor is about 53% systemwide.

Flights to Orlando are pretty strong. A new Allegiant route from Bloomington to the panhandle beach town of Destin, Florida, wasn't strong last month. The route began June 4. Strebing said the short notice didn't let the airport market the route much.

Then Allegiant changed the schedule to a 9:45 p.m. departure and a late night arrival in Florida. Strebing said that hurt. The seasonal route to Destin will end soon and the airport will talk with Allegiant about next year.

The airport said a Frontier flight to Denver was a bright spot in July, though that flight  also will go away in November.

And all of this is leisure travel. There's not much business traffic at all. In a word, the airline world remains volatile.

WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.