More flights, more passengers. Fresno airport braces for record fall, winter travel

One airline is extending its service to Chicago, another is increasing its number of daily flights to Dallas, and more flights will be heading to destinations in Mexico as Fresno Yosemite International Airport braces for a busy fall and winter travel season – all part of what looks like it will be a record year for passenger flow through the airport.

“Year-over-year passenger volume at Fresno Yosemite International Airport has increased by 11.5 percent and is well on course to achieve a record year,” said Kevin Meikle, director of aviation for the city of Fresno.

The airport reported that several of the airlines serving Fresno are going to boost their levels of service to keep up with what is expected to be an increase in seasonal holiday travel:

United Airlines: United’s once-daily round trips between Fresno and Chicago, originally planned as a seasonal service from April through September this year, were extended to continue through early December. Now, the route has become a year-round service that will continue through August 2020. Rather than contracting with Utah-based SkyWest Airlines as it does with many of its Fresno flights, United is using its own mainline fleet for the Chicago-Fresno route.

Starting Oct. 5, United will also be using a larger Airbus jet on one of its four daily flights to Denver to add capacity through next February.

American Airlines: American will increase its number of daily flights between Fresno and Dallas from three to four for about two weeks, from Dec. 4 through Dec. 17.

Aeromexico: Aeromexico is boosting the frequency of its flights to Guadalajara, Mexico, throughout December from five a week to seven days a week, with two daily departures on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Volaris: Volaris is adding more flights to Guadalajara, with two daily departures four times a week throughout December. Volaris is also starting twice-weekly flights on a year-round basis to the Mexican city of León starting in late October.

Through the first six months of 2019, flights aboard domestic airlines to destinations in the western U.S. carried almost 391,000 passengers. That’s about 45,000 more passengers than flew from Fresno in the first half of 2018, which turned out to be a record year for Fresno Yosemite International.

That comes even as airlines are providing a smaller number of flights than they were a decade ago. In the mid- to late 2000s, domestic airlines averaged about 16,200 flights each year. Since 2010, that has shrunk to an annual average of about 12,000 flights. In 2018, airlines serving Fresno provided 12,164 domestic flights. Through the first six months of this year, the number of flights was 6,190.

Those figures don’t include international flights to Guadalajara by Aeromexico and Volaris, or Volaris flights to Morelia. In 2010, Mexicana Airlines – the lone airline providing international service at Fresno Yosemite International – filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations. Aeromexico and Volaris both began offering flights from Fresno in 2011, and the number of passengers they’ve carried each year has steadily increased from 55,625 in 2011 to more than 112,000 in 2018.

Through the first three months of 2019 – the most recent figures available from the Federal Aviation Administration – nearly 27,000 passengers traveled on flights to Mexico aboard the two airlines.

Los Angeles was the most frequent destination for nonstop flights from Fresno, generating more than 1,300 flights through the first six months of the year, followed by Phoenix at 880, San Francisco at 705, Denver at 623, and Salt Lake City and Seattle tied at 516 flights.

Rouding out the domestic nonstop destinations from Fresno through June 2019 were San Diego, with 484 flights; Dallas with 412 flights; Portland with 362 flights; and Las Vegas with 273 flights. United’s Chicago flights didn’t begin until April, and the airline flew 92 flights in three months through June 30.

The airport is also making plans for expansion in the next couple of years to handle future growth. Work on a new three-level, 900-space parking garage is expected to begin in mid-2020. The city hopes to start construction in 2021 on the addition of a new upper-level concourse with two new gates and jet bridges that can be used for both domestic and international flights; enlarging the segregated arrival and Customs area for international passengers; expanding the luggage-handling and sorting area for outbound flights; and increasing the number of Transportation Security Administration security checkpoint lanes.

The new baggage-handling area will be built behind the building that now houses most of the airline ticket counters facing the front entrance of the terminal. The additional passenger concourse and jet bridges atop that new construction will replace a pair of ground-level gates typically used for overflow, where passengers now use outdoor portable stairways to get on and off of aircraft.

Airport officials hope the project can be completed by late 2022.

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Lifelong Valley resident Tim Sheehan has worked in the Valley as a reporter and editor since 1986, and has been at The Fresno Bee since 1998. He is currently The Bee’s data reporter and covers California’s high-speed rail project and other transportation issues. He grew up in Madera, has a journalism degree from Fresno State and a master’s degree in leadership studies from Fresno Pacific University.