DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Around 50,000 passengers passed through DFW International Airport Friday on what typically is the kick-off to the summer travel season. That’s 150,000 fewer passengers than a year ago.
The pandemic impact on commercial air travel has been drastic, and North Texas airport officials say it will likely be long lasting.
“I’ve really never seen a situation like this,” said DFW Airport CEO Sean Donohue. “This is exponentially worse than after 9/11. I believe an optimistic outlook would be sometime in 2022 or 2023 that we return to where we were before all this.”
Air travel is down at both DFW and Love Field between 75 to 80% but that’s progress from a few weeks ago when passenger traffic was down 90%.
Love Field Executive Director Mark Duebner said, “We were doing about 16 million passengers a year ago. The terminal was busy all the time. To see it empty is quite shocking.”
As part of the federal CARES Act, Love Field received $53.8 million in federal aid. DFW Airport received $299.2 million.
The tax dollars these airports received will cover operating costs through the end of year.
It also allows the airports to keep costs low for airlines, and airport officials said in many cases eliminate rent payments for concessions.
At Love Field only 20% of concessions are currently open. At DFW, around 25% are open.
“We have eliminated their rent payments while they are closed,” Donohue said. “We didn’t defer that. We are walking away from $40 million in rent payments but it’s important that we take care of our partners.
Airport officials expect leisure travel will likely be the first to return, followed by business, while international travel will be the last.
However, step one is making sure passengers to feel safe again to fly.
“If someone is nervous about traveling, they shouldn’t travel,” Donohue said, “but people who have a need to travel we are going to take care of them.