Pandemic caused passenger numbers at Bemidji airport to plummet in 2020

Across the country, the coronavirus pandemic led to fewer passengers making their way through airports, and Bemidji was no exception. The Bemidji Regional Airport had nearly 30,000 less passengers go through its terminal in 2020.

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BEMIDJI -- The number of passengers traveling to and from the Bemidji Regional Airport decreased dramatically in 2020 in comparison to both 2018 and 2019 because of the coronavirus.

After years of arriving and departing passengers increasing, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a major reduction. In 2016, the airport had nearly 51,000 passengers arrive and depart, in 2018, the number was 61,430 and in 2019, it reached 61,826.

Then, in 2020, just 32,880 passengers went through the airport, with 16,380 departing passengers and 16,500 arrivals.

Before the pandemic hit, numbers for the airport were coming in as average, with 2,708 departing passengers in January and 2,724 in February. The decline began in March, though, with 1,324 departing passengers in March and just 124 in April, the latter being the lowest amount for the year.

Numbers began to rebound in July, with 1,509 departing passengers and a similar number of arriving travelers, but for the rest of the year, the number never surpassed 1,650. In the final months, the airport had 1,280 departing passengers in November and 1,305 in December.


Across the country, the United States government screened 324 million passengers at its airport checkpoints in 2020 according to TSA numbers, down from 824 million in 2019. The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport had 14.9 million total passengers traveling, a 62% drop from a record 39 million in 2019, according to a release from the airport.

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Travelers wait for their luggage in 2019 at Bemidji Regional Airport. (Pioneer file photo)

In addition to stay-at-home directives and less travel encouraged to mitigate the virus over the course of the year, numbers were also impacted by airline decisions. Delta Air Lines, which flies passengers to and from Bemidji to the Twin Cities, has been blocking off middle sections or selected aisle seats and limiting the number of customers onboard for much of the pandemic.

Inside the terminal, Bemidji Regional Airport Director of Operations Kyle Christiansen said several initiatives were put in place, based on Center for Disease Control guidelines.

"There are floor markers on the floor encouraging social distancing, we have had sections of chairs blocked off and we've been working on additional cleaning and cross-checking the CDC guidelines to make sure the cleaning meets their standards," Christiansen said. "Now, nationally, masks are also required on airport property. It was already here with the city and state having guidelines, but there's another party saying they need to be worn now."

To assist airports across the country during the crisis, the United States Congress approved funding in the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, with $1.12 million for the Bemidji facility . In December, Congress passed the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriation Act of 2020, which provided another $1.01 million for the airport.

Still a busy year

While the number of passengers traveling via the Bemidji Regional Airport declined in 2020, staff remained busy with operations and expansion. For example, Christiansen said a new bituminous apron, which is where planes are parked, was paved at a cost of $587,368.


In 2019, work began on another, 84,000 square-foot apron which is connected to the airport's taxiway, which will allow businesses to develop and build private hangars. This year, the project was completed, with a cost of $1.49 million.

"We completed all the projects we planned to do, and the pandemic didn't have a giant impact," Christiansen said. "It helps a lot that the work is done outside and crews could keep socially distanced."

Another project started in 2019 was the construction of three buildings, each with sets of hangars. Two of the buildings contain five "T-Hangars," each, which are for smaller aircraft, while the third contains four hangars for larger planes. This project was completed in 2020, too, at a cost of $2.4 million.

In addition to the construction projects, airport staff also had to prepare for a September campaign visit by former President Donald Trump in a limited amount of time. During that time, airport staff coordinated with the Secret Service and Air Force One personnel as the event took place on the airport's apron.

During the time of the event, which had thousands of attendees, the airport had to put a temporary flight restriction, where the airport was essentially closed. During the restriction, only MedEvac personnel could operate.

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