The one-year anniversary of the declaration of COVID-19 as a national emergency was on March 11, 2021. Passenger numbers at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport (GSP) declined by 96% at the peak of the pandemic and remained down 60% from pre-pandemic levels throughout 2020. However, as coronavirus cases continue to decline, more people are vaccinated, and restrictions around the country are lifted, we are seeing more passengers returning to the skies and airlines increasing flights to popular destinations.
On November 5, 2020, Southwest Airlines began new nonstop service to Houston, TX and on March 11, 2021, Silver Airways launched new flights to Jacksonville, FL, Orlando, FL, and Tampa, FL. At the same time, airlines that had suspended service due to COVID restrictions have started restoring those flights from GSP. American Airlines reestablished nonstop service to Miami, FL and Washington, D.C. United restored nonstop flights to Denver, CO. Delta brought back service to Detroit, MI. All six of our airlines have increased frequencies on current routes and GSP now serves 21 nonstop cities, which is the most in the airport’s history.
To accommodate returning passengers, we have reopened restaurants and retail stores in the terminal building. The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck, Baskin Robbins, Chick-fil-A, Dunkin Donuts, Flatwood Grill, Hudson, Tech On-The-Go, and Palmetto Distillery are all open for business. We anticipate the MAG Escape Lounge to reopen in the second half of 2021. Thomas Creek Grill and RJ Rockers Flight Room will reopen when passenger demand warrants. However, most likely, that won’t be until sometime in 2022. In addition, we plan to open a totally new restaurant concept in the Grand Hall during the second half of 2021. Stay tuned for more details on that exciting announcement.
While passenger numbers have been reduced during the pandemic, we are experiencing a significant increase in cargo activity; particularly to and from GSP and international destinations. In 2020, cargo activity at GSP increased by 12%, setting a record for cargo tonnage at the airport. In fact, GSP now ranks #20 in the U.S. in terms of international freight and accounts for $4.37 billion in trade value. Over the past few months, GSP has welcomed a number of new cargo airlines to the region including British Airways, TUI, Mas Air, and more.
To ensure that the airport remained positioned to serve the region’s needs once air travel demand returned, work continued on several significant capital improvement projects during the pandemic. In November 2020, we opened a new Aircraft Rescue & Fire Fighting (ARFF) facility and we expect to take delivery of two new ARFF trucks in April 2021.
Enhancements to the airport entrance road and work to relieve roadway congestion at the airport also concluded during the first quarter of 2021. The improvements included the construction of a new 1,500-space economy parking lot and upgraded roadway signage. This summer, we will launch a new program allowing travelers to pre-book airport parking on our website. This program will provide customers with discounts on parking, rewards points, and a way to guarantee a space in their lot of choice for their trip.
Maintaining a high level of safety, convenience, and efficiency has been and continues to be our priority. Our goal is to always provide a better airport experience for our customers. That is why we were so honored to be recognized as the “Best Airport in North America” serving 2-5 million passengers annually by Airports Council International. This recognition represents the highest accolade that an airport can achieve, as it is based on feedback gathered from customers using the airport over the past 12 months. Receiving this award is a high benchmark any time. However, receiving this recognition during a global pandemic speaks volumes for the support we enjoy from our passengers and the Upstate SC region.
It may be a few years before we are again reaching our pre-pandemic passenger activity levels. However, rest assured that GSP remains committed to providing the region with a safe, clean, efficient, and modern airport offering convenient air service to the people and places that matter most to them. Thank you for supporting GSP during this unprecedented time and we look forward to serving you on your next flight from your hometown airport.
Please join us for an upcoming TATT Chat on April 15th, 2021 from 3:00-4:00 p.m. for “Latest News from GSP Airport” with guest speaker, Scott Carr! Register here.