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As Reopening Continues, Pittsburgh International Airport, PennDOT Expect Some Summer Travel To Pick Up

90.5 WESA
PennDot officials say statewide traffic volumes are beginning to return to pre-pandemic levels.

Travelers have begun to return to the roads and skies after a year that many people spent at home, and some experts are expecting travel rates to creep back up this summer.

“People are ready to get out and get back to vacationing again,” said Jim Garrity, a spokesman from AAA East Central, adding that the company is anticipating a large increase in summer travel. Garrity said the number of people traveling this summer could potentially double over what it was in 2020.

“A lot of the questions we’re getting are about road trips,” he said. “A lot of folks are saying ‘I want to get back to traveling. Maybe I’ll do something, though, that I’m a little more comfortable with, maybe something I’ve done before, like a road trip to a beach, a road trip to a lake, a road trip to a national park.’”

An analysis by the companyfound that about 100,000 people plan to take an overnight road trip this summer. Last year, roughly 50,000 people made road trip plans through AAA.

PennDOT officials said travel fell sharply early in the pandemic, as many people worked from home and drove less. But statewide traffic volumes have begun the slow return to pre-pandemic levels.

“We’re seeing that those volumes are kind of stabilizing at 92 percent of where they were in 2019,” said Dan Farley, section chief of PennDOT’s Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) Operations and Performance Section. “I think that’s promising that we’re not seeing a lot of fluctuation now like we did early on within the pandemic, so I think that’s a good sign.”

Travelers are also beginning to return to airports, but numbers are rising more slowly than they have for car travel. According to the Allegheny County Airport Authority, the number of passengers at the Pittsburgh International Airport in April 2021increased 1,200 percent from April 2020, but still fell below the numbers for April 2019.

“We’re now seeing more than 60,000 passengers in a week that are traveling through the [Pittsburgh International Airport], which, during the worst portion of the pandemic, that would be what we would see during a normal month,” said Bryan Dietz, vice president of air service development at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Daily, between 9,000 and 11,000 travelers pass through PIT. In pre-pandemic years, the airport averaged closer to 17,000 to 18,000 passengers each day.

Dietz said it will likely take a few years for airport traffic to return to pre-pandemic numbers.

“While we are having a big step forward in passenger recovery, we still have a ways to go with more leisure travelers coming back,” he said. “But more importantly, too, is the business traffic returning to the skies. That’ll get us to that full point of recovery, which we still are expecting to take some noticeable time.”

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at