Sea-Tac Airport passenger counts down more than 55 percent in March

SEATTLE -- As expected, passenger counts at Sea-Tac Airport have reached unprecedented lows when compared to the same time last year.

Airport officials said 1.82 million people passed through Sea-Tac for the month of March, compared to 4.1 million in March 2019, a 55.6 percent decrease.

International travelers dipped to 183,528 for March, down from 446,530 international travelers in March 2019. That's a 59 percent decrease that was expected with the cancellation of 321 international departures.

Still, traffic at Sea-Tac is faring better than nationwide, numbers show.

About 2.3 million people passed through security checkpoints nationwide on March 1, unchanged from the same day last year. The numbers careened sharply lower from that point on, plunging below 100,000 by early April — a drop of about 95%. Airline officials say most of the people still flying are health care workers fighting the COVID-19 outbreak and individuals reuniting with family members.

Another telling statistic captures the emptiness of the airline planes that are still flying. Airlines for America, the industry’s trade group, said that over the past week flights within the United States have carried an average of about 12 passengers — it was nearly 100 in early January, when the virus outbreak was largely limited to Asia. The average on international flights has dropped from 150 to 26 in the same time.

Airlines have responded to the drop in traffic by canceling thousands of flights. That triggers refunds to passengers who had tickets and can’t or don’t want to be rebooked on another flight. Delta and other airlines are spending more on refunds than they are taking in from new bookings — that’s called negative net bookings.

Demand for future air travel in the U.S. was down 98.4% in the second week of April compared with a year earlier, according to the industry trade group.