“Dramatic” boost expected as Logan activity creeps up

Coronavirus Local Impact

Massport Aviation Director Ed Freni told the agency’s board Thursday that the recent back-to-back Massachusetts and New Hampshire school vacation weeks should make April “a much stronger month” for Logan International Airport. (Massport)

BOSTON (SHNS) – As travelers prioritize getaways to popular tourist destinations over business travel, Logan International Airport’s rebound is still lagging behind other airports around the country, but officials there are expecting a “dramatic increase” in flights over the next two months.

Massachusetts Port Authority officials have long said that Logan’s passenger volume is likely to
take years to rebound to pre-pandemic levels. One Massport official estimated it would be
2024-25. But recent months have shown signs of optimism as more people become vaccinated
and federal and state authorities relax COVID-19 restrictions, boosting interest in leisure travel.

“We did have a milestone number, since the pandemic, in March,” Massport Aviation Director Ed Freni said during a board meeting Thursday morning. “We handled over a million customers in the month of March. Of course, we’re way down still from 2019, but we’re creeping up, doing a little bit better than we’d expected.”

In terms of passengers, the 1,070,171 people who flew through Logan in March represented a drop of 35 percent from March 2020 and a 69 percent decline from March 2019. It was the busiest month for air travel at Logan since December, when about 805,000 passengers went through the airport. The 15,600 flights last month marked a 46 percent drop from last year and a 55 percent drop from March 2019.

Though April’s numbers are not yet final, Freni said he expects it will be “a much stronger month than March” thanks in part to the back-to-back Massachusetts and New Hampshire school vacation weeks that each saw just shy of 200,000 passengers.

“These are good indications of recovery,” he said. “It’s a very good indication that people are feeling more comfortable and that Logan is in their sights.”

When it comes to domestic seat capacity on flights out of Logan, Freni said the airport is lagging behind the national average as airlines and travelers focus on leisure markets. For June, airlines plan to offer an average of 64 percent of the seats they made available in June 2019. The national average is 85 percent, Freni said.

Inside the airport terminals, Freni said there are 86 concessions open at Logan. That’s an increase of 15 restaurants and shops from the start of the year but remains well below the pre-pandemic norm of 150 open concessions.

“Hudson News has reported that people are actually spending on average more than they did before the pandemic, which is good,” he said. “We’re seeing that as well.”

While Logan is still well behind its level of activity from a year and more ago, Freni said Hanscom Field “has hung in there through the pandemic” and saw almost as much jet activity last month as it did in March 2019.

“They’re just down 3 percent. That’s doing it with the corporate jets still asleep in the hangar, so this is a lot of private jet activity, leisure travel, and we’re really happy to see Hanscom have a busy airport,” he said.

Freni said the outlook for international travel is more clouded. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends that travelers delay international travel until they are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus and the agency has provided separate guidance on travel for people who are not yet vaccinated.

He said JetBlue, which had previously announced it planned to begin non-stop service between Boston and London’s Heathrow Airport, has secured “slots” at Heathrow for this summer, but no date has been announced for the start of that route.

“We think it’s going to be before the summer because they have to use some of those slots before the end of the summer,” Freni said.

Massport CEO Lisa Wieland said Thursday that “higher than expected passenger and cargo volume helped to offset lower container volume” across Massport’s properties during the month of February which helped the agency’s financial picture, but not enough to bring it out of the red.

“So all told for February, we’re still running a deficit of about $71 million, which we continue to fill with the federal CARES Act funding that we received,” she said.

Massport is also keeping close watch of President Joe Biden’s infrastructure proposal, which would provide $25 billion for airports, and a Senate GOP counterproposal that Wieland said would direct $44 billion to the nation’s airports.

“We think there is an opportunity here to advance some of the capital programs that we previously had postponed and, frankly, also thinking about some of that funding to help us advance one of our key goals, which is establishing environmental leadership,” she said.

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