Airport officials ‘astounded’ by passenger count; Flight traffic back near pre-pandemic totals

Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) may have started 2021 with similar turbulence felt by the entire travel industry, but it ended it with plenty of friendly skies.

Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) may have started 2021 with similar turbulence felt by the entire travel industry, but it ended it with plenty of friendly skies.

Data released by airport staff Monday shows more than 2 million total passengers used PSP in 2021 and that December was the seventh straight month of record-setting passenger counts.

“We are astounded by the record passenger numbers we’ve experienced,” said Harry Barret, interim executive director of aviation, “and we’re eager to work toward translating those numbers into job opportunities and economic progress for our community.”

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Beginning in 2016, Palm Springs International Airport was seeing a steady increase in passengers flowing through its terminal. Then the pandemic struck.

The 2021 totals reflect a 67% jump from 2020 numbers and a return to the momentum the airport was experiencing prior to the onset of COVID-19. PSP was at or above the two million mark between 2016 and 2019, and was well on the way there in 2020 when the pandemic shut down much of the travel industry for months.

Passenger count data at Palm Springs International Airport shows 2020 got off to a strong start, but then the pandemic put a stop to travel that lasted into the start of 2021. After March 2021, however, the airport began to set records.

Data comparing the past two years — seen in the chart above — shows a somewhat wild ride for passenger counts at the airport. Starting in the spring of 2020, there was a significant drop in monthly passenger counts that lasted through the start of 2021. Then, as travel restrictions lifted and local lodging opened back up, the scenario suddenly shifted. Between April and December 2020, 456,000 people took flights through PSP. Those same months in 2021 saw 1.6 million passengers.

Annual flight totals at Palm Springs International Airport decreased slightly in 2021 compared to 2019, but were up significantly compared to the prior year.

News of record-breaking passenger counts has led some to speculate that the skies above Palm Springs must be filled with an ever-increasing number of passenger planes. Data shows that’s not exactly true.

The airport currently offers the highest number of routes ever and averaged 39 flights per day in 2021. But that’s only four more than the 35 average daily flights recorded during the past decade.

The noticeable increase in air traffic may be because 3,500 more flights were recorded last year compared to 2020. But there were actually 323 fewer flights compared to 2019.

In addition, airport officials note that noise complaints were roughly the same in 2021 compared to prior years, and that most of the complaints were about military jets that also use the airport.

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