Summer head count climbing at San Francisco, Oakland airports 

With summer vacation season ready for takeoff, national and Bay Area forecasts show air travel increasing despite more-expensive ticket prices driven by high fuel costs.

According to figures from AAA, about 3 million people will travel by air nationwide during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, an 11.5 percent increase from last year. Ticket prices during the holiday weekend are expected to be 14 percent more expensive than last year.

During summer, the Air Transport Association of America predicts a 1.5 percent increase in air travelers nationwide, with about 206 million passengers expected to take to the skies from June through August. That number is up about 3 million from last year, according to the report.

Locally, San Francisco and Oakland international airports are expecting a small increase in air travel this summer. SFO expects about a 3 percent increase from last year, while OAK anticipates staying flat or increasing by 1 percent, officials said.

Despite the increase, national passenger levels have yet to reach the place they were before the recession. While ATA reported passenger highs of about 218 million in summer 2007, the national traveler head count dipped to about 200 million in 2009 and is still recovering.

SFO, however, bucked the post-2007 recession trend.

“We’ve been up for about four or five years in a row now,” SFO spokesman Mike McCarron said, adding that he was a bit “surprised” by the increase given the rising cost of fuel.

SFO reported a more than 77,000 summer passenger drop-off from 2005 to 2006, according to airport data. But passenger counts have increased about 17.7 percent from 2006 to 2010, reaching 11 million summer riders last year.   

Though the significantly smaller Oakland airport absorbed the brunt of the recession, officials there interpreted its flat or slight increase as “good news.”

“It will be a very slight growth ... if at all,” OAK spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said.

OAK has recently added four airlines to its operation in an attempt to rebuild its passenger base after the falloff induced by the 2008 recession, she said.

The East Bay airport reported more than 4.2 million summer passengers during the 2007 peak, but traffic plummeted by 1 million passengers a year later. The downward trend continued in 2009 with 2.6 million summer riders before slightly increasing last year by 35,000.


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