RSW sees rise in air travel, considerable bounce back from same time last year

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FILE: Travelers in line at RSW. (Credit: WINK News)

The amount of people flying to Southwest Florida is steadily increasing. That means businesses here can make ends meet. This time last year, there was a lot of uncertainty about the region’s economy.

Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) was busy Tuesday afternoon, full of people heading home after spending the last week soaking up some sun.

“It was good. It was a lot of fun,” said Haley Perry, who was visiting from Boston. “It was really nice there.”

“I went to the pool. I went swimming. I played games,” said Brady Shaver, who visited his grandmother in Fort Myers.

It was a stark contrast from a year ago when stay-at-home orders in Florida started, and lockdowns were in place around the world.

“Last year, we actually came home like a week before it happened,” said Natalie Kueckan, visiting from Detroit. “So we landed a week before everything got shut down.”

As conditions become safer during the pandemic due to the number of people being vaccinated for COVID-19, the amount of people that travel through RSW goes up.

Last April, only more than 53,000 people went in and out of RSW. Last month, that number shot up to more than 725,000 people in February.

MORE: RSW total passengers

FGCU economist Victor Claar says it’s a good sign our economy is getting back on track.

“Let’s face it, a year ago, Southwest Florida was a ghost town,” Claar said. “Season ended early, and everybody went home, and I’m really thankful that people have come back, and they feel like Florida is one of the places that they wanna travel to and that they feel safe traveling to.”

But Claar added RSW’s passenger numbers don’t entirely reflect how many people are coming to Southwest Florida and spending money. He says we’re actually doing a lot better.

A lot of people are still afraid to fly, so they’re driving to Southwest Florida instead, and you can see it and feel it out on the roads.

“It’s not the season that we normally have, but it’s actually a lot closer to a regular season than you ever would’ve expected a year ago,” Claar said. “And it’s much closer to a regular season than you would think just looking at those passengers’ numbers through RSW.”

It’s going to take some time for us to get back to our pre-COVID-19 normal season, but the hustle and bustle of the airport Tuesday was a positive sign.

RSW will release the flight numbers for the month of March, which will include spring break, in the middle of April.

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