Why BWI is recovering faster than Reagan National or Dulles

BWI Marshall airport has seen its passenger trends rise faster than Reagan National or Dulles. In this 2018 photo, travelers sit at a gate at BWI Marshall Airport. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Air passenger traffic at the D.C. area’s three airports remains significantly lower than a year ago, but passenger trends have been rising faster at BWI Marshall Airport than at Reagan National or Dulles International airports.

It is partly because of the mix of passengers the three airports serve.

BWI Marshall had 724,000 total air traffic passengers in June, according to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, compared to nearly 2.5 million in June 2019. Though down 70.5% from a year ago, BWI’s passenger count for June was more than at Dulles and Reagan National combined.

Reagan National had 371,000 passengers in June, and Dulles had 283,000, meaning BWI accounted for 58% of all passengers at the three airports. BWI is the busiest of the three airports generally, although they are typically all close for annual passenger counts.

BWI Marshall is showing more recovery because of its mix of passengers more focused on domestic leisure travel.

COVID-19 has affected all airports and all airlines. But Dulles, which has the lion’s share of the region’s international flights, has been particularly hard hit by the pullback in international travel.

Lufthansa and Air France had no operating flights at Dulles in June. United’s international fights were down 96.2%. Other carriers had few, if any, scheduled international flights.

Total international passenger volume at Dulles in June was down 95.8% compared to last June. Domestic passenger volume was down 84.5%.

At Reagan National, June passenger volume was down 82% from a year ago. Reagan National’s largest travel segment is business travel, which remains heavily affected as the pandemic curtails most business travel.

BWI Marshall is also getting a boost from cargo flights, which, based on metric tons transported in June, was actually up 36.2% from a year ago. That is largely because of Amazon Air, operating with carriers Atlas Air and ABX Air.

TSA does not report daily passenger screening numbers for individual airports, but it does keep a running tally of daily screenings at all U.S. airports. TSA screenings totaled 862,949 on Aug. 16, the highest number of passenger screenings since April 14, when just 87,534 passengers passed through TSA screenings at U.S. airports.

Here’s a four-year breakdown on June passenger volumes at all three D.C.-area airports:

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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