RSW passenger traffic continues ascent

Tristan Spinski/Staff
Paige Kinstler, facing center, 14, of Naples, along with, from left, Jill Kinstler, 10, of Naples, George Poli, of Trenton, N.J., Connie Kinstler, not pictured, and Natalie Smith, right, of Naples, greet Smith's daughter, Cynthia Smith, back turned, of San Francisco, at Southwest Florida International Airport on Thursday afternoon. While travel experts expect large crowds this holiday season, overall holiday air travel, both locally and nationally, is expected to drop compared to previous years because of higher ticket prices, fewer flights and reduced seating capacities.

Photo by TRISTAN SPINSKI // Buy this photo

Tristan Spinski/Staff Paige Kinstler, facing center, 14, of Naples, along with, from left, Jill Kinstler, 10, of Naples, George Poli, of Trenton, N.J., Connie Kinstler, not pictured, and Natalie Smith, right, of Naples, greet Smith's daughter, Cynthia Smith, back turned, of San Francisco, at Southwest Florida International Airport on Thursday afternoon. While travel experts expect large crowds this holiday season, overall holiday air travel, both locally and nationally, is expected to drop compared to previous years because of higher ticket prices, fewer flights and reduced seating capacities.

Corey Perrine/Staff 
 Travelers arrive Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Fla., on the busiest traveling day of the season. While air passenger travel is down overall through the same period last year, it's been higher for the last four consecutive months.

Photo by COREY PERRINE, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Corey Perrine/Staff Travelers arrive Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012, at Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, Fla., on the busiest traveling day of the season. While air passenger travel is down overall through the same period last year, it's been higher for the last four consecutive months.

File 
 From left, George Poli, of Trenton, N.J., Paige Kinstler, 14, of Naples, Connie Kinstler, of Naples, Jill Kinstler, 10, of Naples, and Natalie Smith, of Naples, don Santa hats as they prepare to greet family at Southwest Florida International Airport in 2011. Travel is up several percentage points versus the same time last year in  October and has risen for the past four months.

Photo by TRISTAN SPINSKI, Tristan Spinski/Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

File From left, George Poli, of Trenton, N.J., Paige Kinstler, 14, of Naples, Connie Kinstler, of Naples, Jill Kinstler, 10, of Naples, and Natalie Smith, of Naples, don Santa hats as they prepare to greet family at Southwest Florida International Airport in 2011. Travel is up several percentage points versus the same time last year in October and has risen for the past four months.

Last month, 484,768 passengers traveled through the airport, up 3.3 percent from October 2011.

Airport traffic has risen four months in a row. However, year-to-date through October it's still down 3.9 percent over the same 10 months last year.

Last month saw the biggest increase in airport traffic in four months.

"The traffic seems to be picking up and this was despite the fact that in October we lost nearly one complete day of flying due to super storm Sandy," said Vicki Moreland, a spokeswoman for Southwest Florida International.

The storm forced 140 flight cancellations at the regional airport in Fort Myers. That contributed to a 2 percent drop in flights this October, Moreland said.

"That was a pretty good story, the fact that we were able to keep our traffic up despite flights being down. Air freight was up as well," she said.

In September, 354,640 passengers traveled through Southwest Florida International, up 0.8 percent over the same month last year.

Traffic increased in August by 0.3 percent and in July by 1.7 percent. In June, it dropped 4 percent.

Southwest Florida International is the most popular airport for travelers who fly for stays in Lee and Collier counties. Some choose Miami International instead, which has accounted for nearly 24 percent of the fly-in traffic visiting Collier this year, according to a report by Tampa-based Research Data Services Inc., a county consultant.

Collier has seen its visitor numbers increase year-over-year every month this year. The number of visitors staying in hotels and other vacation rentals rose nearly 5 percent in October over the same month last year.

Visitor numbers have been slower to rebound in Lee County, due in part to lagging visitation of friends and relatives, according to the county's Visitor and Convention Bureau. October numbers aren't yet available, but total visitation fell nearly 5 percent in September year-over-year in the county, according to a monthly visitor profile.

The rise in passenger traffic at Southwest Florida International in October was in part driven by an increase in international travelers, Moreland said. The airport saw about 4,000 more international passengers last month than it did in October 2011, primarily coming from Canada, she said.

The traffic leader in October was Delta with 123,633 passengers traveling to and from Fort Myers. Rounding out the top five airlines were AirTran with 81,620 passengers, Southwest with 66,506, JetBlue with 51,635, and US Airways with 49,251.

"When you see your major carriers increasing traffic that is a good sign," Moreland said. "Delta was up. American was up. So overall, considering that October is a shoulder market, both for the region and the airport, this was certainly a promising sign of the future to come."Major carriers will resume other seasonal flights at Southwest Florida International in December and January reaching destinations such as Islip, N.Y., and Providence, R.I., which shows they're confident they can fill seats again this year, Moreland said.

"We are a great destination to come to and people like to be able to come to Southwest Florida, especially when it's cold up North," she said. "When the first storm up North hits we all start celebrating down here."

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