Metro Airport passenger traffic takes off

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Romulus — The number of travelers who have passed through Metro Airport’s gates this year has ticked up, putting it on pace for a third straight annual increase in passenger traffic, airport officials say.

Expected to boost the tally of 29.2 million fliers who streamed through the gates this year through October is a busier holiday stretch this month compared to last year, said spokeswoman Erica Donerson.

The numbers signal a stronger Michigan economy and more confidence among travelers, who have money to spend to head to other climes, say observers, including travel agents and AAA Michigan.

“We saw over a 4 percent increase for air travel this year, and that’s great news for Michigan’s economy that more folks have more money in their wallets to book that flight,” AAA spokeswomen Susan Hiltz said.

Traveler Kellie Wilson, 36, who flew from Florida to Michigan this week, joins a trend: She flew home for the holidays with her husband and says they spent more this year on travel than last year.

“I flew home for an early Christmas with my family and booked an international trip this year for this coming February, so we’ve spent around $1,000+ more than we normally do,” said the former Redford Township resident.

Metro Airport had 31 million passengers in 2016 through October. In 2016, 34.4 million traveled in and out of the airport.

Holiday traffic was expected to surge this week: AAA forecasts nearly 3.5 million Michiganians will travel from Saturday through Jan. 1 — a 3.4 percent increase, or 114,000 more travelers than last year. That’s the most since AAA began tracking data in 2001.

Metro’s holiday passenger traffic is following a trend. Nationally, 2017 marked the ninth consecutive year of rising holiday travel. Since 2005, travel volume has grown by 21.6 million, according to AAA.

“Our research shows that Americans are doing better than last year and want to go somewhere for the holidays,” said Vicky Evans, assistant vice president of AAA Travel. “Whether they are going home or visiting a new destination, Americans have more money to finance their travel plans, thanks to a stronger economy and growing consumer confidence.”

The last two years of growth come amid Metro Airport numbers holding steady for five previous years at 32 million passengers each year. Metro’s record is 36.3 million travelers in 2005, before the Great Recession.

While December’s totals won’t be available until February, Donerson said they’re on track to finish the year 1 percent higher than last year.

“Our overall passenger traffic continues to grow compared to 2016,” said Joseph Nardone, CEO of the Wayne County Airport Authority. . “We’re grateful travelers are choosing DTW.”

Of Michiganians traveling for the holidays, 3.17 million will go by car and 190,400 by plane.

During peak travel times, AAA recommends travelers arrive at airports at least two hours before departure, be aware of potential weather delays and enroll in programs such as TSA PreCheck and Global Entry.

For the second year, Orlando, Florida, and Anaheim, California, were the most booked holiday destinations with AAA Travel.

“Cancun, Mexico; Honolulu, Hawaii; Montego Bay, Jamaica, and Punta Cana, (Dominican Republic), were the most booked for the holidays for folks trying to escape to the sun,” Hiltz said.

April Abston of St. Clair Shores said she travels to Florida to visit family almost every holiday season.

“It’s nice to be in the sun, we hit the theme parks and get to celebrate with other family we have there without all the hassle of snow,” said Abston, 27. “We usually shop online and ship our gifts to Florida in advance.”

Twitter: @SarahRahal_