Why Phoenix airport traffic took a hit this summer — and how that's turning around

Michael Salerno
Arizona Republic

Flight passenger declines in June and July compared to 2021 traffic suggested a slow summer at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. But August saw a rebound.

A total of 3,481,624 passengers traveled through Sky Harbor in August, up 2.3% from the 3,402,619 passengers that flew in and out of the airport the same month in 2021.

As with each month this year so far, traffic remains down from pre-pandemic levels. This past August saw 4.7% fewer passengers than August 2019, when 3,651,884 passengers flew to and from Sky Harbor.

Passenger data typically runs a month behind. Figures for August were released Sept. 30. September traffic numbers are expected near the end of October.

Subscribe and save:4 airlines flying out of Phoenix offer cheap flight programs

This year-over-year increase follows a summer traffic dip in Phoenix

People make their way through terminal 3 of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

July was a busier month for Sky Harbor than August, with 3,671,794 passengers recorded. But August marked the first time in two months where Sky Harbor had a year-over-year increase in passenger traffic.

Sky Harbor reported a modest 0.6% decline in June to 3,617,586 passengers, while July was down almost 4% from 2021.

How flight cancellations contributed to fewer travelers at Sky Harbor

Airport officials thought airlines' staffing issues that led to delays and cancellations nationwide, including at Sky Harbor, played a part in the lower passenger counts in June and July.

"Although we have seen some very exciting additions to the Phoenix route maps and reinstatement of markets that were paused due to the pandemic, airlines are still challenged with hiring," airport spokesman Greg Roybal said.

Air carriers recorded a total of 474 canceled departing flights and 502 canceled arriving flights in June and July 2022 at Sky Harbor, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Suspended routes:Why United Airlines is suspending Denver-Flagstaff flights

Sky Harbor is projected to beat its 2021 passenger numbers in 2022

While air travel demand remains strong, Sky Harbor hasn't seen traffic approach pre-pandemic levels.

Sky Harbor is on track to finish 2022 with greater passenger traffic than last year. From January to August, 29,081,669 passengers flew to and/or from the airport, up nearly 21% from the 24,058,476 passengers recorded in the same period in 2021.

But the first eight months of the year still had about 2 million fewer people compared to the 31,032,266 passengers recorded during the same period in 2019.

Experts estimate pre-pandemic passenger traffic will resume in 2023

Airport staff think it won't take long before airport traffic returns to what it was, based on persistent demand for air travel, airlines adding new routes to and from Phoenix, and anticipation for the Super Bowl.

They're currently projecting 2023 traffic will be "at or above" 2019, Roybal said.

180,000 in a day:Super Bowl visitors will swamp Sky Harbor. How it's getting ready

Reach the reporter at Follow him on Twitter @salerno_phx.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to today.