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Recession Affects US Airports Unevenly

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747 landingIt’s not a big secret that the recession is causing pain throughout the travel and tourism industry.

But it may surprise you to know that although some airports are hurting right along with hotels, resorts and airlines, others are seeing a surprising surge in business, despite—or perhaps because of—the economic downturn.

One of the airports that has suffered the most is McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, which just released figures showing a record decline in passengers last year.

At least 7.7 percent fewer people passed through the airport in 2008 than in 2007, which represents the biggest single-year drop since 1980-81.

Authorities attribute the decrease to the fact that all the major airlines which service the airport saw fewer passengers in 2008. In addition, Spirit Airlines stopped service to Las Vegas from many cities across the U.S., which took another big bite out of McCarran’s volume.

But two airports in the Northeast have actually seen large surges in traffic. Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York and Burlington International Airport in Vermont have seen record numbers of passengers, largely due to their proximity to the Canadian border.

The proliferation of low-cost and budget carriers at the two airports has drawn increasing numbers of Canadian travelers, who only have to drive a few miles over the border to take advantage of airfares that are sometimes far less than what they can get back home.

Buffalo airport estimates that one-third of its passengers are Canadian, while Burlington gets 40 to 50 percent of its business from north of the border.

The recession is also unevenly affecting airport expansion plans. Several airports have added capacity in the past few months, including Chicago O’Hare, Washington-Dulles and Seattle’s Sea-Tac.

And while Detroit Metropolitan Airport opened a $431 million terminal last September, other airports such as Oakland and San Luis Obispo, California, have had to put their plans on hold until the economy recovers.

Related links: Las Vegas Review-Journal, USA Today, Sign On San Diego, PeterGreenberg.com: Despite Economic Downturn, Three New Runways Unveiled.

By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.

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