Phoenix airport beats pre-pandemic travel levels. Here's how many people flew in September

Michael Salerno
Arizona Republic

It finally happened.

For the first time since February 2020, passenger traffic at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport exceeded pre-pandemic numbers.

Airport staff counted more than 3.5 million passengers in September 2022, up nearly 2% from the same month in 2019 when the airport recorded 3.45 million passengers.

It also marks a 6% improvement from September 2021, when 3.3 million passengers flew to and from the airport.

Passenger data typically runs a month behind. Figures for September were released Oct. 26. October traffic numbers are expected near the end of November.

Here's what's new:A $194 million upgrade is coming to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport

A long-awaited milestone

Sky Harbor officials have been anticipating air travel demand to exceed pre-pandemic levels for some time. The airport saw year-over-year increases compared to 2021 for most months this year, though airlines' staffing shortages caused slight traffic declines in June and July.

A Frontier Airlines plane at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport's Terminal 3.

Airport staff get their passenger counts by tracking the number of people who go through security checkpoints. Based on their observations of September traffic, the increase over pre-pandemic numbers "wasn't a surprise when the airlines reported these numbers in mid-October," airport spokeswoman Tamra Ingersoll said.

She attributed the airport's milestone to continued increases in travel demand, new routes and the strength of the Phoenix market.

"In addition to seeing growth in population and business, Phoenix continues to have a strong tourism market that attracts visitors," Ingersoll said.

Get your passport ready:Phoenix flyers have more international options

Frontier Airlines expands at Sky Harbor

While it may be too late for Sky Harbor's 2022 passenger traffic to best 2019, a record year for the airport with 46.2 million flyers, its staff is laying groundwork for bigger things in 2023 with new flights lining up and $1.7 billion in infrastructure improvements in the works.

November began with Frontier Airlines opening a new crew base at the airport and launching nonstop service between Sky Harbor and Philadelphia; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Cincinnati; Detroit; Orange County, California; and Portland, Oregon.

But that's just the beginning of Frontier's expansion in Phoenix. It will launch Phoenix-Baltimore flights on Nov. 17 and ring in 2023 with more new routes from Sky Harbor starting in January: Nashville, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; Seattle; Minneapolis; and Indianapolis.

Establishing a crew base in Phoenix will allow Frontier to operate more efficiently and offer greater flexibility to serve new routes in the future, said Josh Flyr, Frontier Airlines' vice president of network and operational design.

"We pass this efficiency on to consumers in the form of low fares, stimulating yet more demand to and from the Phoenix metro," he said.

Real ID update:When you'll need it to fly, how to get one and what you can use instead

In the works: PHX Sky Train extension and a new concourse 

Airport staff also said they're in the "home stretch" of testing for the PHX Sky Train extension to the Rental Car Center, which would improve the process of traveling between the terminals and rental cars. Currently, passengers must take a ground shuttle to get to the Rental Car Center.

And they expect progress in the new year on various projects including a taxiway connecting the north and south airfields, a new concourse in Terminal 3, passenger bridge connecting Terminals 3 and 4, and an on-site hotel.

Given what's yet to come at Sky Harbor, Ingersoll said, "we expect to see more months like this past September in the near future."

Reach the reporter at Follow him on Twitter @salerno_phx.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to today.