Thanksgiving travel expected to bump Baton Rouge airport business

Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport officials are expecting a bump in traffic during the holidays season this year in comparison to 2016, largely due to the continued trend of airlines upgrading to larger planes with more seats.

Because the regional airport caters largely to business travelers, the holidays are not the traffic boosters seen by facilities in other destination markets, says BTR spokesman Jim Caldwell. In fact, total ridership typically drops slightly during the holiday months, as demand for business travel softens.

Nonetheless, BTR expects a 4-5% jump in traffic during peak Thanksgiving travel this year compared to last. From Tuesday through Sunday this week, BTR forecasts around 6,400 departing passengers. The holiday schedule this year includes two mainline Boeing 717 jets—which boast well over 100 seats—as well as larger jets for other flights.

Since the latter part of last year, the airport has seen steadily increasing traffic, a factor of larger planes and, to a lesser degree, lower fares. The uptick ends a four-year skid from 2012 to 2016 that saw consistent drops in ridership each year. Caldwell points to larger market forces as reason for the drops in recent years.

American Airlines is the most recent airline to “upgauge” its aircraft to larger jets with first class and coach seating. Nearly all of American’s flights on weekdays are now dual-class, larger jets. United and Delta, the other two airlines servicing BTR, have also been upgauging local flights.

As airlines continue to bring in larger planes—and begin offering first class as well as coach—more riders use the airport, Caldwell says, adding that the trend will likely continue through next year. Overall, airport officials anticipate a 6% ridership bump this year compared to last, and another 7% jump next year.

“They’re estimating we’ll have pretty significant increase next year,” he says. “All that’s really depending on seating capacity for airlines.”

—Sam Karlin

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