CT airports 'expecting to be very busy' during July 4 weekend

Photo of Paul Schott

The aviation industry is still grappling with pandemic-sparked disruption, but executives at Connecticut’s main airports said that they are hopeful that Independence Day weekend will help spur a rebound.

The holiday weekend could offer a gauge of consumer confidence, as it perennially ranks as one of the busiest travel periods. Significant turnout would be welcomed at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks and Tweed-New Haven Airport, which are among the airports across the country that have struggled since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, officials said.

“The Independence Day holiday travel period typically stretches across several days. This year, we are expecting approximately 20 percent fewer passengers in comparison to the same travel period in 2019,” said Alisa Sisic, a spokesperson for the Connecticut Airport Authority, which owns and operates Bradley. “While we do not have data to share for the remainder of the summer, we are optimistic that the gradual return of passenger traffic will continue.”

At Tweed, “we’re expecting to be very busy and have packed flights this week leading up to the big holiday weekend,” said Sean Scanlon, Tweed’s executive director.

Travel companies such as Norwalk-based Booking Holdings are also seeing signs of a growing desire to travel. Booking’s Priceline subsidiary released a report last month showing that 92 percent of Americans would travel, or already have, in 2021 — and 52 percent plan to go as soon as this summer.

In another promising indicator for the travel industry, four in 10 Americans said they plan to take at least one vacation this summer — a percentage similar to the activity during the summer of 2019, according to a report published in May by professional-services firm Deloitte.

A resurgence in travel this summer could help airports such as Bradley and Tweed recover from a steep drop in activity since COVID-19 spread to the U.S. In the first three months of 2021, a total of about 590,000 travelers passed through Bradley, down 54 percent from the same period in 2020.

Passenger numbers for Tweed were not available.

Despite their challenges, the state’s airports are expanding their services. Last week, Bradley started a nonstop JetBlue route to Miami. In May, the new Breeze Airways said it would launch this summer four nonstop routes connecting Bradley with Charleston, S.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Norfolk, Va.; and Pittsburgh. Also in May, Sun Country Airlines committed to starting nonstop service between Bradley and Minneapolis.

Tweed expects a “huge increase in ridership here this fall,” when Avelo Airlines will establish the airport as its base for East Coast operations, Scanlon said. Avelo is planning eight flights per day at Tweed by the end of the year.

The Tweed expansion plans also include a new terminal and a longer runway.

“Most of the major airlines are still in rough shape, and most are still running minimal schedules,” said Scanlon, who also serves as a state representative for Branford and Guilford. “But if you compare July 2020 when we averaged 29 percent full flights here in New Haven to June 2021 when we are averaging the industry standard 75 percent full, there is no question things are moving in the right direction.”

As noted by airport officials and others in the travel industry, COVID-19 vaccinations have helped in restoring confidence in the safety of mass transit. In the past week, Connecticut’s total number of doses administered for every 100,000 people ranked No. 3 among the states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“People who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine or a vaccine authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization can travel safely within the United States,” the CDC says on its website.

The CDC defines people as fully vaccinated against COVID-19 when two weeks have passed since receiving the second dose in a two-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or two weeks have gone by since getting a single-dose vaccine such as the Johnson & Johnson immunization.

pschott@stamfordadvocate.com; twitter: @paulschott