CLEVELAND — Just over 4.1 million passengers traveled through Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in 2020, a steep drop from the year before, a result of the coronavirus pandemic that brought global air travel to a near standstill.
Cleveland air traffic — down 59% in 2020 — fared modestly better than air traffic nationwide, which was down 62% through October, according to figures from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Travel experts believe it will be mid-2021 before U.S. air travel picks up, as more Americans receive the COVID-19 vaccine. It could take several years, however, until 2023 or 2024, before air traffic returns to 2019 levels.
Cleveland airport officials are projecting passenger traffic in 2021 between 5.2 million and 6 million travelers.
Key to a full recovery is the resumption of business travel, which has lagged behind leisure travel in the months since the pandemic hit.
In 2019, Cleveland Hopkins welcomed 10.04 million travelers, the most in more than a decade. And 2020 was expected to be another year of growth, with Spirit, Frontier and United airlines all planning new routes from Cleveland.
In mid-March, however, air travel worldwide ground to a halt, as COVID spread across the globe.
Air traffic at Hopkins in 2020 bottomed out in April, with just 30,149 passengers, a drop of more than 96% from April 2019. Traffic has gradually improved since then, with 333,526 passengers in December, a 59% decrease from the year before.
The Sunday after Christmas, Dec. 27, the Transportation Security Administration screened 10,369 departing Cleveland travelers – the highest daily number since March 13.
TSA numbers nationwide on Wednesday were down 70% from the year before.
It’s unclear how this year will go for Cleveland Hopkins, and all airports. This winter looks relatively bleak, with stay-at-home advisories currently in place in Cuyahoga County and elsewhere, and travel restrictions in force throughout the United States. California, for example, is shut down to all leisure travel, and New York has restrictions in place that eliminate most travel to the state.
Florida, however, remains a popular destination for Cleveland travelers, with numerous carriers sending hundreds of passengers from Hopkins to the Sunshine State daily.