DSM airport’s passenger traffic rebounds significantly

By: - July 13, 2021 3:47 pm

Passengers line up for flights at Des Moines International Airport on July 13, 2021. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Des Moines International Airport has seen its passenger traffic recover from 5% of pre-pandemic levels early last year to 85% now. 

The surge is primarily due to vacation travel, airport Executive Director Kevin Foley told the airport board Tuesday. Business travel is expected to take as much as five years to recover. 

Recreational traffic has rebounded more quickly than expected. Airport officials had hoped the number of passengers would return to 70% of pre-pandemic levels by November or December. But the past couple of months has pushed that figure to 85%. That’s just 15% under 2019 levels, before the pandemic shut down many flights and forced people to stay home more.

Kevin Foley is the executive director and general manager of Des Moines International Airport. (Photo courtesy of Des Moines International Airport)

Year to date, passenger traffic is up 23.3% since last year. The airlines offered 17.4% more seats on flights in June than they did in May, according to airport statistics. 

At times, motorists are double- and even triple-parking in front of the terminal, a rule violation that has airport staff considering issuing tickets, Foley said. A nearby parking ramp offers 20 minutes of free parking for quick stops, drop-offs and pick-ups, he noted.

The percentage of airline passengers using TSA PreCheck, normally about 40%, has dropped to 15% with the absence of many business travelers, Foley said. That means longer lines in the regular lines, he added. Airport officials recommend arriving at least 90 minutes before a flight. 

A couple of airport board members said they have received complaints from people who waited a half-hour or more for a taxi. One waited 90 minutes. 

Airport Operations Director Clinton Torp said 9.9% of taxi passengers waited more than 10 minutes in June.  

The number of taxi rides per month was about 65% of pre-pandemic traffic, Torp noted.

Foley said a worker shortage has hurt taxi companies, Uber, Lyft, and rental car operations. 

At the same time, Foley said the airport is beginning to reopen restaurant operations, based on demand.

In other news, Foley said the airport is in line for two more stimulus grants. One is for $11.8 million for operating expenses, personnel, and debt payments. The other is $1.2 million for concessionaires in the terminal.

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.