John Wayne Airport Making Strong Recovery with Good Passenger Numbers

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Main News Photo

(Orange County Register)

Two years after the rapidly spreading coronavirus halted most air travel, traffic at John Wayne Airport and across the industry is rebounding “more quickly than expected,” with last week’s passenger volume almost 2% higher than the same period in 2019, Rick Francis, the airport’s interim director, said on March 15.

Even with the slower recovery of business travel, the number of people flying nationally is around 80% to 85% of what it was in 2019, which is used as a pre-pandemic benchmark, Francis said after a press conference about airport programs.

JWA saw more than 10.6 million travelers in each of 2018 and 2019; that total fell to 3.7 million in 2020 and then climbed back up to 7.7 million last year, according to airport statistics. In January 2022 (the most recent data released) the number of passengers hit nearly 77% of the total for the same month in 2019.

The county-owned airport took pains not to lay off its own employees as business fell over the past two years, but much of JWA’s workforce is employed through contractors. HMS Host, which staffs airport restaurants, laid off more than 200 John Wayne workers in 2020, and 72 employees at JWA were among more than 500 airport staff cut by airline caterer LSG Sky Chefs last year.

Francis said a significant number of those workers have returned, though he didn’t have exact data Tuesday afternoon.

Airport officials “made sure that they kept a list of the people (who were laid off) so that they would be the first ones called,” Francis said. He estimated “well over 50 to 60%” are back on the job.

Tuesday’s press conference, organized by OC Board of Supervisors Chairman Doug Chaffee, highlighted several airport programs that the increasing number of travelers may notice when passing through JWA.

Patriot, a mellow, blue-eyed therapy dog wearing a vest that said “pet me,” was there to represent the AirPAWS program, a partnership with nonprofit Orange County Animal Allies that brings therapy dogs to the airport to help relieve passengers’ stress.

The program launched in February 2020, right before air travel plummeted, but OC Animal Allies Executive Director Kevin Marlin said the pandemic made people “elated to see some semblance of normalcy, something warm and fuzzy” during their journeys.

Francis also talked about the airport’s art program, which is currently displaying works by Oaxacan artists in cooperation with the Mexican consultate in Santa Ana; and the Helping Hands program, which helps people with autism and developmental and intellectual disabilities get comfortable with airport procedures and security screenings.

OC Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, whose District 5 includes the airport, noted that as John Wayne adapted to the pandemic, it added three new carriers last year: Allegiant Air, Sun Country Airlines, and Air Canada.

Category: Travel and Tourism, Economic News, JWA