116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
At the Cedar Rapids airport, some pre-pandemic normalcy is starting to come back.
“Airlines are asking folks to volunteer their seat because of flights oversold,” said Marty Lenss, director of The Eastern Iowa Airport.
That hadn’t been the case “for quite a while,” Lenss noted, with travel numbers remaining depressed during COVID-19.
The return of those requests, albeit only “from time to time,” signals a rebound in passenger traffic in Cedar Rapids, largely driven by a boost in leisure travel.
The airport had an 18.9 percent increase in enplaned passengers, which counts travelers who board in Cedar Rapids, and an 11.4 percent increase in total passengers compared to March 2020.
They’re the highest monthly numbers since February 2020, the last month not affected by COVID-19.
Lenss pointed to spring break travel as part of the reason for the jump in passenger numbers.
“Our March is usually busy,” he said.
He also pointed to “pent-up demand” from vaccinated Iowans wanting to travel again.
The recovery varies by airline. Carriers focused more on leisure travel — and American Airlines, which Lenss said had a “pretty aggressive schedule,” had especially high traffic.
American and Frontier Airlines saw enplaned passenger increases of more than 45 percent at Cedar Rapids compared to March 2020. Allegiant Air also was up 32.5 percent.
Other airlines did not see that same jump, though. Delta Air Lines was down 27.6 percent, and United Airlines dropped 6.7 percent.
Delta’s middle seats still were blocked in March as a COVID-19 precaution, limiting its passenger capacity.
Total cargo increased by 18.5 percent to one of its highest levels in the past five years although passenger traffic drives significantly more revenue for the airport.
The March recovery at The Eastern Iowa Airport outpaced Des Moines International Airport, which saw more a more modest 6.8 percent in enplaned passengers and 1.3 percent increase in total passengers compared with March 2020.
The increases in Cedar Rapids passenger numbers came despite a 20.4 percent drop in passenger flights, a sign that planes have been fuller than a year ago.
While spring break travel is over, Lenss said momentum has continued in April.
The airport is “routinely” seeing between 1,000 and 1,300 enplaned passengers in a day this April.
Last April, there were 1,483 enplaned passengers all month.
The Eastern Iowa Airport’s nonstop flight on American to Phoenix Sky Harbor, which originally ran seasonally from November to April, is on a brief hiatus before resuming again in June.
“To see American invest in and bring that route back this June is really promising for the recovery of the market,” Lenss said.
While airlines’ schedules beyond the next 30 days remain tentative, Lenss said the airport has only 5 percent fewer flights scheduled in June 2021 than in June 2019.
“We’re about 95 percent of the way there, so that’s fantastic news,” Lenss said.
Whether more routes get added may come down to quite how many overbooked flight announcements come through the terminal speakers.
“When we’ve got those flights full, that’s when airlines want to add capacity in a market,” Lenss said.
“We got to have a healthy ecosystem with what we got first before we can begin to grow it.”
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