Despite the effects of Hurricane Irma, a record number of passengers have traveled through Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport this year, putting the airport on track for another record year.
As of September, 1.85 million people have traveled through the airport, which is an increase of 11.6 percent or 186,091 people year-to-date. Departing flights have accounted for 921,912 of those passengers and incoming flights make up the remaining 930,889 passengers.
“It should be another record year. It would have been up even more had it not been for the hurricane, but we’ve been on a record roll for the last little bit. It’s very exciting,” said Lori Lynah, director of marketing and air service development.
Hurricane Irma did, however, cause a drop in the month-to-month numbers after ceasing operations for about three days as airlines canceled flights or operated on a limited schedule.
The airport served 86,142 incoming passengers this September, down from 96,049 passengers last year. And departing travelers for the month also fell to 90,214 from 99,746 last September.
“It was very similar to (Hurricane) Matthew. We were down 10 percent for the month,” she said.
“That’s what not having service for two or three days will do to you.”
Looking beyond Irma’s effects, Lynah attributes the growth this year to several factors, including the addition of Air Canada, which provides seasonal air service from May to October from Savannah to Toronto. In 2018, the airline will start offering service two months earlier in March, she said.
“They’ll be back in March, which is really wonderful and we’re thrilled about that,” she said.
The airport’s partnerships with Visit Savannah and the Hilton Head Chamber of Commerce also continue to bolster yearly numbers through marketing campaigns, which Lynah said is vital.
“They are fantastic partners and (the Savannah Economic Development Authority) is as well,” she said.
“It’s a good partnership, and we try to utilize it as much as we can and bring as much to the table as they do, so it’s a really good dynamic that we have, and I think that’s going to take us even further in the future.”
The airport is also receiving some national attention this month after being named one of the Top 10 Best Airports in the U.S. by Condé Nast’s 2017 Reader’s Choice Awards. It was the second year in a row the airport has made the list.
The airport took the No. 6 spot with the publication noting the airport’s town square-inspired layout gives it an intimate and inviting atmosphere where travelers can shop for cigars and dine on crab cakes.
“People do appreciate it,” Lynah said of the airports’ layout. “I love airports, so of course I’m partial, but people pay attention to that stuff and that’s a good thing.”
The airport also had some local company in this year’s awards with Savannah claiming the No. 6 spot on the Top 15 Small Cities in the U.S. list.
Visit Savannah President Joseph Marinelli says the fact the accolade is based on visitor reviews makes it especially gratifying.
“Being among this exceptional list of the finest cities in the country is quite special for Savannah, but being put there by the actual readers of Condé Nast Traveler is what makes it the honor that it is,” he said.
The city was recognized for its abundance of mossy and moody “snappable views,” ornate architecture, upscale accommodations and fine dining.
All of the 2017 winners will be recognized online as well as in the November issue of Condé Nast Traveler.