By: W. Scott Bailey | From: San Antonio Business Journal

The timing of that post-pandemic comeback is crucial as city leaders advance a major airport expansion plan.

In a year with multiple airline industry disruptions, San Antonio International Airport came close to matching its all-time passenger record set prior to the pandemic. 

Nearly 9.5 million passengers flew into or out of SAT in 2022 — a 27% increase over the 2021 total and within less than 9% of the airport’s historic high mark set in 2019.

It’s a significant rebound for an Alamo City airport that saw its passenger count drop to just over 4 million in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak. The timing of that ascent is crucial as San Antonio leaders work to finalize a long-range airport expansion and improvements plan that could cost upwards of $2 billion, and which will be driven in large part by passenger demand. 

“2022 was a giant first step in in the right direction,” Jesus Saenz, director of airports for the San Antonio Airport System, told me.

The centerpiece of that airport plan is a new third terminal that could add as many as 17 gates. That expansion will be key as local airport officials work to secure more seat capacity and additional flights.

Some of the growth in SAT’s passenger count is attributable to those ongoing efforts.

Brian Pratte, chief air service and marketing officer for the San Antonio Airport System, said the decision by multiple airlines to introduce or add flights at SAT “definitely indicates the strong demand in the San Antonio market as well as a resurgence of business travel."

Multiple factors, including a new Omicron variant, contributed to a slow start in passenger demand, according to airport officials. By March of 2022, however, the city began to see a significant improvement in traffic.

But there were other issues later in the year that may have impacted San Antonio’s final passenger count. During the December holidays, for example, Southwest Airlines canceled thousands of flights across the U.S.

Airline staffing issues have also impacted the industry.

Still, more than 8.9 million domestic passengers traveled to or from San Antonio in 2022 — a 32.5% gain over the previous year.

International traffic was down 25% in 2022 compared to 2021, but that head count was up nearly 19% when paired against 2019.