Central Illinois airport officials hope ticket sales take flight this summer

Local News

PEORIA/BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — Airports in central Illinois are seeing more travelers this spring compared to this time last year.

Last year, COVID-19 travel restrictions were put in place that halted spring travel plans for people worldwide. But, in central Illinois, both Peoria International Airport (PIA) and Central Illinois Regional Airport (CIRA) are filling back up.

Micah Thomas flew in Thursday afternoon from Florida to Bloomington and said he’s flown his entire life.

“It’s good that we can actually get on planes now and actually get to travel places,” Thomas said.

Directors at both PIA and CIRA are hoping for March and April’s successful spring travel months to take flight into the summer just in time for vacation. Director of Airports at PIA, Gene Olson, said March 2021 was the best month they’ve seen in more than a year.

“This March was about 2% better than last March and this March was the first time since COVID started that we were over 30,000 passengers,” Gene said. “But, that’s still about half of what we would have in 2019.”

Executive Director of CIRA, Carl Olson, said Bloomington-Normal’s airport also saw more travelers in March and April. And as of right now, he said things are trending up for the summer.

“Advanced bookings are looking strong and one of the best indicators of something for summer travel is advanced bookings. People are booking out two and three months ahead of time, so all of that is signaling a strong leisure travel for the summer and we’re cautiously optimistic,” Carl said.

Although passenger counts are up, both Olson at CIRA and Olson at PIA said people traveling for business has gone down.

“Typically CIRA is about 50/50 mix of business and leisure, but right now with so many people working remotely and not in the office, there’s no consistent business travel,” Carl said.

Gene Olson at PIA said there’s no specific way to really tell why someone might be traveling; however, based on the airline ticket sales, they have a general idea.

“Back before COVID-19 all of our airlines were pretty even-Stevens, around 25% a share,” Gene said. “Now with COVID-19, Allegiant Air’s share is over 50% and most people fly Allegiant for leisure.”

Both airport officials are hopeful that as people go back to work, business travel picks up. Business travelers usually pay more for airfare and travel more spontaneously.

“They pay higher fares usually than the leisure traveler is willing to pay so what all that means is they’re much more profitable for the airlines and that’s airlines bread and butter,” Gene said.

Masks are still required inside airports and many airlines require passengers to wear a mask at all times. Carl said with increased vaccines and cleaning procedures, he hopes more people feel safe flying.

“We have signs up throughout the airport asking people to social distance and we’re disinfecting planes frequently,” Carl said. “I’d tell people to book ahead and make sure they have a face covering.”

Thomas, a former Illinois-native said he prefers to travel by plane and is looking forward to summer vacation.

“I graduate from high school this year, so we’re planning a summer trip to celebrate,” he said.

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