'We are on track to a full recovery': Salt Lake airport on pace for record-breaking year

People check bags at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on July 1, 2022. The airport welcomed a record 26.4 million passengers during the 2023 fiscal year, and the airport is also on track to set a new calendar year record.

People check bags at Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on July 1, 2022. The airport welcomed a record 26.4 million passengers during the 2023 fiscal year, and the airport is also on track to set a new calendar year record. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — The COVID-19 pandemic's grasp on the travel industry has slowly faded away and it's allowing Salt Lake City International Airport to break new passenger records.

Airport officials disclosed this week that the airport wound up with a little more than 26.4 million passengers during the 2023 fiscal year, which ended on June 30, topping the previous record of 26.2 million set during the 2019 fiscal year. Total passengers is a calculation of people who end up at the airport one way or another, either arriving, departing or connecting through their domestic or international flights.

The airport's calendar record — data collected from January through December — is 26.8 million also set in 2019. Nearly 13.2 million total passengers ended up at the airport during the first half of this year, slightly above the 13.1 million recorded through the first six months four years ago, according to airport passenger data.

With the fall break, Thanksgiving and Christmas periods still on the horizon, airport officials say they expect 2023 will set a new calendar year record. If it happens, it would snap a record set right before the pandemic and before the new airport facility opened.

"We are on track to a full recovery from the pandemic. At the height of the pandemic a couple of years ago it didn't seem possible," said Bill Wyatt, executive director of Salt Lake City Department of Airports, in a statement.

The COVID-19 pandemic dismantled all the gains the airport made in 2019. After a robust January and February, airline ridership plummeted amid March shutdowns. The airport brought in only about 1.2 million passengers in March 2020 after drawing close to 2.1 million the month before. Total passengers dipped to 176,524 by April, slowly rising from there.

In the end, the airport drew just shy of 12.6 million passengers in 2020, a 53% drop from 2019.

The air traffic slowdown had some benefits, though. It helped advance construction of the new airport facility, saving about two years of construction and about $300 million in costs, Wyatt said at the time. The new Salt Lake City International Airport eventually opened in September 2020.

The new airport brought in about 22.4 million passengers in its first full year and close to 25.8 million in 2022 as it inched closer to pre-pandemic figures, per airport traffic data. This year could finally put it over the edge into record-setting territory.

The airport's rise includes substantial international travel increases. For example, there were more than 1.3 million international passengers during the 2023 fiscal year, a 22% increase from the 2019 count.

"To see domestic travel rebound so quickly is remarkable, but to see international travel up by double digits is astounding," Wyatt said on Monday.

Of course, the new airport is still growing, something that was not possible with the old facility. The airport added five new gates earlier this year with four more scheduled to open this month among the dozens of additional gates planned out through 2027.

The airport's first four phases are designed to accommodate 34 million passengers.

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Utah transportationUtah travel and tourismUtahSalt Lake CountyBusiness
Carter Williams is a reporter who covers general news, local government, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com.

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