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Passenger traffic at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport rebounds, still lagging from pre-pandemic heights

Officials said the total number of passengers surpassed 25.2 million in 2021, a 69% increase over 2020, but still 36% lower than 2019.

Holiday travelers waited in line at the Delta ticketing counter of Terminal 1 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in November. Officials said Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022, the total number of passengers at the airport surpassed 25.2 million in 2021, a 69% increase over 2020, but still 36% lower than 2019.
David Joles / Star Tribune / TNS file photo
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ST. PAUL -- Although Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport made big passenger gains in 2021, it remains far from heights reached in the record-breaking year prior to the start of the pandemic, according to data released Thursday by the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

Officials said the total number of passengers surpassed 25.2 million in 2021, a 69% increase over 2020, but still 36% lower than 2019. In that year, MSP had a record 39.5 million passengers, capping off passenger year-over-year growth that stretched back a decade.

“While the rebound in passengers this past year is encouraging, we are still faced with many challenges and uncertainties with air travel because of the continued spread of COVID globally,” Brian Ryks, CEO of the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which operates MSP, said in a Thursday statement.

While the airport saw a stronger rebound in domestic travel and several new destinations last year, the hope is for a more meaningful recovery in the business and international travel sectors in 2022, Ryks said.

MSP gained 27 new year-round or seasonal domestic destinations in 2021, reaching a total 137 non-stop destinations for the year. That’s an increase from 119 destinations in 2020, but down from 167 prior to the pandemic, in 2019. Domestically, MSP ended 2021 serving 118 destinations during the year, compared to 137 before the pandemic. MSP has recovered 19 out of 30 pre-pandemic international routes.


International travel has plummeted at MSP. In 2021, about 24.4 million passengers flew to or from domestic destinations versus about 741,000 on international flights. Pre-pandemic, international travel surpassed 3.2 million passengers.

Meanwhile, MSP supported about 304,000 aircraft operations (takeoffs and landings, all types of aircraft) in 2021, up 24% from 2020’s 245,000 operations. In 2019, MSP supported 406,000 aircraft operations. Passenger airline operations in 2021 averaged approximately 740 per day, compared to more than 1,000 daily operations in 2019.

Cargo activity has remained strong at MSP throughout the pandemic, backed by global e-commerce growth. MSP’s total cargo in 2021 was about 235,000 metric tons, surpassing 2019’s pre-pandemic cargo shipments by nearly 3%, and 2020 levels by 15%. Cargo-only carrier operations grew to 16,578, a 10.2% increase from 2020.

This month, airlines are operating an average of 362 departures a day, compared to 299 average daily departures in January 2021.

Delta remains the dominant airline, with a passenger market share of 72 percent, a figure that includes regional affiliates.

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