Strong November at RSW likely means busy tourist season, official says

Corey Perrine/Staff
Lindsay Potterton of Westchester, Pa. embraces her sister Jennifer Barker, left, coming from Brielle, N.J. while husband Joe Potterton, daughter, Lindsay Potterton, 5, and Lexi Potterton, 7, look on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Fla. On the busiest traveling day of the season, families reunited from the southwest Florida region for the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Photo by COREY PERRINE // Buy this photo

Corey Perrine/Staff Lindsay Potterton of Westchester, Pa. embraces her sister Jennifer Barker, left, coming from Brielle, N.J. while husband Joe Potterton, daughter, Lindsay Potterton, 5, and Lexi Potterton, 7, look on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Fla. On the busiest traveling day of the season, families reunited from the southwest Florida region for the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Southwest Florida International Airport reported its second best November ever last month.

A total 658,629 passengers traveled through the airport, an increase of 7.5 percent compared to November 2011. The number was a few thousand passengers short of the November record set in 2006, said Vicki Moreland, airport spokeswoman.

It's the fifth consecutive month airport traffic has increased. Overall, passenger traffic is down 2.9 percent from the same period last year.

"That is a very good barometer for us for a very good season coming up," she said Wednesday of November's numbers.

Moreland pointed to a few factors in explaining why traffic increased at the airport.

Spirit Airlines doubled its service, adding flights to Boston, Minneapolis and Dallas/Fort Worth.

Also, Southwest Airlines/AirTran introduced seasonal flights earlier than normal, in November instead of the first few months of 2013, Moreland said. The airline added service to Hartford, Conn., Flint, Mich., Boston, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Akron, Ohio, she said.

Another factor for the strong November was more Canadians flying south, Moreland said. Air Canada reported a 19.5 percent increase last month compared to November 2011, while WestJet Airlines showed a 3 percent increase.

And it didn't hurt that the airport's largest carrier, Delta Air Lines, enjoyed a 15 percent increase in passenger traffic in November, she said. Delta was the traffic leader in November with 143,388 passengers traveling to and from Fort Myers. Rounding out the top five airlines were AirTran (113,142), JetBlue (82,906), US Airways (62,858) and Southwest (62,729).

Airlines also continue to increase destinations, Moreland said. WestJet adds service to Ottawa — the first-ever flight from Fort Myers to the Canada's capital — Saturday.

Frontier Air recently announced service to Trenton, N.J., — another Southwest Florida airport first — starting Jan. 31, she said.

And Southwest is adding Cleveland and Detroit flights starting in February, Moreland said.

The busiest months are February, March and April, with the peak "wherever Easter falls," she said. Easter Sunday is March 31 in 2013.

"We are cautiously optimistic that this winter season will be a good one," she said.

Heavy snowstorms that already hit the Rockies are expected to dump plenty of snow on the Midwest this week, likely boosting December traffic.

"Anytime it snows, I'm sure the phone starts to ring in the airlines," Moreland said. "And when it starts to get cold, a beautiful day like today is a great advertisement for coming to Southwest Florida."

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