This article was originally published on Timesfreepress.com.
Another year, another passenger boarding record at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport.
For the second consecutive year, the airport in 2015 set a new high mark in boardings, and it nearly hit the 400,000-passenger level, officials said Monday.
It’s the first time since record-keeping began at the airport 45 years ago that Lovell Field has posted back-to-back annual highs.
A growing economy, competitive fares and convenience compared to larger airports were the reasons behind the all-time record last year of 392,139 boardings, up 11.2 percent from 2014, said Airport CEO Terry Hart.
“It’s great to finish the year on an up note,” Hart told Airport Authority members at a meeting.
Airport officials think that prospects for larger planes on some American Eagle daily flights to Charlotte, N.C., will help the Lovell Field top last year’s figure in 2016.
Hart said American, which last year merged with US Airways, is looking at boosting the size of two of its flights from 50-seat planes to 70 seaters. The aircraft also will offer first-class service.
The record traffic helps airport officials make the case to the airlines for more service, which will be key to topping the 400,000 mark in 2016.
“It allows us to go to talk with the Delta’s, the United’s, the Allegiant’s,” Hart said.
Still, the increased traffic may be causing longer wait times for some passengers retrieving their luggage from baggage claim.
Authority member Mike Mallen said he has heard complaints that it has taken as long as an hour for travelers to collect their bags.
He said the waits are a reflection on third-party vendors which are hired to move luggage from the planes to the baggage carousels in the airport terminal. Mallen asked if airport officials can monitor passenger wait times for their bags.
Board member Paul Conn said Delta is focusing on improving that part of its business and the airport should register its concern.
“We should reinforce our concern,” he said.
Hart said he will gather information on luggage wait times.
Dan Jacobson, the Airport Authority chairman, said Lovell Field has had three years of significant passenger hikes.
“It’s a launching point for 2016,” he said. “This will be the year we’ll be breaking 400,000. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Hart said he has invited United Airlines’ officials to Chattanooga to talk about the potential for the startup of new service.
Airport officials have expressed the desire of nonstops between Chattanooga and the New York area. Also, airport officials would like to see United fly nonstops to Houston.
“We’ll bring them in and give them an update with what we’ve been doing,” Hart said. “We’re trying to get them to take the leap of faith.”
Delta Air Lines posted a gain of 15.5 percent in passenger boardings in 2015 over the prior year at Lovell Field.
American Eagle boardings jumped 14.2 percent last year. Allegiant Air recorded a 2 percent increase, the airport reported.