Increased international travel pushes DFW airport to pre-pandemic levels

International is back at DFW International Airport.

DFW International Airport flew more flights and hosted more passengers bound for international destinations in April than it did during the same month in 2019, a remarkable achievement after two years of pandemic restrictions and skepticism that crushed consumers’ desire to travel abroad.

Buoyed by new service from airlines such as Turkish Airlines and Finnair, DFW Airport hosted 770,000 incoming and outgoing international travelers in April, the best month for travelers flying in and out of the US since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Those numbers pushed DFW into its first month as it surpassed pre-pandemic traffic numbers for both domestic and international travel.

“People are becoming more adventurous and it is amazing how the world has reopened,” said John Grant, senior analyst at OAG. “I think everyone is amazed at how strong the international recovery has been.”

DFW’s April numbers outperformed the 717,000 international passengers the airport hosted in April 2019 by 7%, according to the airport’s latest data. It’s a huge improvement from the 26,198 passengers the airport saw in April 2020, the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic for air travel.

DFW’s recovery comes as foreign aviation is booming across the country and around the world with excited travelers looking to use up expired miles, take unused vacation and fly away to more ambitious destinations for the first time in nearly three years.

The recovery has been uneven depending on where travelers are looking to, guided by the disparate COVID-19 restrictions still in place in many places such as China and South Asia. But it seems that Americans are ready to go abroad again, and foreign tourists want to visit American sites.

Spending on airline tickets with foreign airlines rose about 9% for the week ending June 4, according to a report released Wednesday from Bank of America based on its internal credit card data.

Grant said that pushing American travelers abroad has brought down COVID-19 restrictions in many parts of the world and a strong US dollar is making money go further in places like Europe.

The US government has dropped COVID-19 testing for re-entry into the US after pressure from the travel industry, although Grant doesn’t think more flexible requirements will affect the numbers much because people were either willing to take risks or were finding ways to beat the testing mandate. However, United Airlines said Wednesday that it has seen an increase in searches for overseas travel since the restrictions were lifted.

Grant said transatlantic travel has been the fastest growing of any international travel segment, especially for Americans who travel to real and tried-and-true destinations like London, Paris, Rome and Madrid.

DFW International Airport hosted 2,803 international flights in April, an increase of 107 from the same month in 2019. And there are more destinations, 61 in total, served by more airlines outside DFW than three years ago.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines operated 80% of those international flights from DFW in April.

In DFW, European travel has been strong with Finnair, Iberia and Turkish Airlines adding new service in recent months. But most of the credit goes to Mexico, which has been the bright spot for the past two years with few restrictions attracting American tourists to the sandy beaches and resorts.

Airlines flew 17% more flights to Mexico from DFW than they did in April 2019, and more than 1,500 on all destinations to 23 destinations, according to flight schedule service Cirium. That’s more flights, more seats, and more cities than before the pandemic.

“Mexico has never shut down and DFW is doing its bit as a hub to some extent in Mexico,” Grant said.

Traffic is only expected to increase this summer, as DFW expects total passenger traffic during Labor Day to reach around 99% of 2019 levels, according to spokesperson Brian Brooks.

The airport will add eight more international destinations this summer, with both foreign operators and low-cost airlines moving to take advantage of summer demand. Brooks said the airport expects about 23 million passengers to arrive between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

“Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is preparing for a very busy summer as travel continues to pick up,” Brooks said.

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