International airports in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Miami enjoyed one of their busiest periods since the start of the pandemic late last month, when travelers filled their terminals over Memorial Day weekend in record numbers.
According to secure identity company CLEARwhich operates biometric screening lanes in airports across the country, Orlando International Airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport (MIA) were among the top five nationwide hubs with more passenger movements over the holiday weekend last week than they did in 2019.
The three airports placed second, third and fourth, respectively, on the list, trailing only George Bush Intercontinental / Houston Airport and leading Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in the top five.
“We calculated these numbers based on the number of verifications at our CLEAR pods this past weekend as compared to Memorial Day weekend 2019,” a CLEAR spokesperson said. “The increases we’ve seen in our airport verification over the last few months have proven to be a leading indicator of the rebound of the travel industry.”
MIA alone saw a 285% increase in passenger movements compared to the pre-pandemic Memorial Day weekend in 2019. That was despite torrential rains leading to at least 100 flight cancellations in and out of the hub.
“(If) people traveling over the holiday weekend thought MIA was the busiest they’ve seen in a long time, they were right,” the CLEAR spokesperson said.
Officials at MIA had projected the “busiest Memorial Day weekend ever” in a May 23 press release, noting that passenger traffic at the airport was up 17% over the last 30 days compared to the same period before the pandemic struck in 2020.
This year, the airport is averaging 150,000 passengers daily compared to 126,000 in 2019, a previous all-time high.
Similar growth in tourism is being seen statewide in Florida, which never had mandatory statewide mask mandates and was primarily open to businesses throughout the pandemic, even when the state was getting battered by the delta wave that killed thousands of Floridians last summer. During news conferences, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis frequently notes how businesses were open despite COVID-19 in the “free state of Florida.”
Figures released earlier this year by Visit Florida, the state’s tourism promotion agency, showed that tourism statewide is now slightly surpassing numbers from before the pandemic. In the first quarter of this year, Florida had 35.9 million visitors, a 1.3% increase over the same quarter in 2019.
The 35.9 million visitors from January through March represented an almost 40% jump compared to the same quarter last year, according to Visit Florida.
In the lead up to this year’s Memorial Day weekend, MIA officials expected parking garages to fill to capacity and recommended that passengers be dropped off at the airport by friends, family, taxi or ride-hailing service.
They also suggested travelers arrive three hours early for domestic flights and three and a half hours early for international travel to have plenty of time to pass through the check-in and security checkpoint process.
Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.