COVID-19 Pushes Dallas Fort Worth To World’s Busiest Airport

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Dallas Fort Worth Airport is having a moment in the sun. Federal Aviation Administration statistics names the airport as the world’s busiest. But the bragging rights are only temporary, and as the airport admits, aircraft and passenger movements are way down on normal.

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Dallas Fort Worth Airport is temporarily the world’s busiest. Photo: Dallas Fort Worth Airport News Room

Dallas busiest airport of most of the summer

Dallas Fort Worth Airport usually ranks the fourth busiest in the United States (trailing Atlanta, Chicago, and Los Angeles) and regularly sits in the top ten globally. But from May until August, Dallas Fort Worth Airport sits on top of the heap.

In May, Dallas Fort Worth had more take-offs and landings than any other airport. The FAA says there were 27,230 flight takeoffs and landings that month. In June, the airport also took the top prize with 25,294 take-offs and landings.

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The numbers for July are not yet in, but indicative statistics indicate Dallas Fort Worth will make it three months in a row. Atlanta, Chicago, and Denver Airports will take the next spots. China’s Guangzhou Airport is expected to round out the top five.

Management at Dallas Fort Worth know the title of the world’s busiest airport is little more than a historical footnote during the era of COVID-19. They also acknowledge that the title is only temporary.

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We all were happy that we’re No. 1 for a month, but we’re still down about 50%,” Chris Poinsatte, CFO at the airport told The Star-Telegram.

“We’re doing relatively better than others, but that’s nothing to be bragging about.”

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Both aircraft and passenger numbers are way down on normal at Dallas Fort Worth Airport. Photo: Dallas Fort Worth Airport News Room

American Airlines to the rescue

In 2019, Dallas Fort Worth handled over 200,000 passengers daily. That dropped to under 15,000 passengers daily in April. Since then, numbers have recovered to around 70,000 daily passengers. But that’s still less than half the numbers the airport usually handles.

The numbers would be far worse if it were not for American Airlines. Dallas Fort Worth is the mega carrier’s home base, and the airline accounts for 85% of all flights there. Usually, American Airlines would have around 900 flights a day through Dallas Fort Worth. Current numbers are way off that, but the airline is effectively underwriting Dallas Fort Worth’s relative success.

That’s because American Airlines is focusing on its big hubs like Dallas Fort Worth. As passenger numbers declined on the back of COVID-19, many point to point flights were canceled. Instead, airlines like American began redirecting passengers through their hubs, such as Dallas Fort Worth.

American will have a significantly smaller international network in the year ahead, but we are using this opportunity to hit reset and create a network using the strength of our strategic hubs that we can build and grow upon and be profitable on in this new environment,” said  American’s Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja in July.

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Dallas Fort Worth can thank American Airlines for underwriting traffic through the airport. Photo: American Airlines News Room

Strategy benefits hub airports like Dallas

That strategy is now benefiting hub airports like Dallas Fort Worth at the expense of other airports. That’s seeing Philadelphia become an American Airlines hub for Europe bound flights, Miami become a hub for Latin American and Caribbean bound flights, and Dallas become a hub for South American and Pacific flights.

“American has nixed several of its nonstop flights and forced connections through DFW,” Ryan Ewing, president of Airline Geeks, told Conde Nast Traveler.

Meanwhile, the sun may be setting on Dallas Fort Worth Airport’s number one position. Cirium data indicates Atlanta will snatch the top prize in August, with Dallas Fort Worth coming second. Still, there’s room for some optimism. Dallas Fort Airport expects business to slowly but surely trend up, reaching 2019 levels by 2022 or 2023.

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