A record number of international passengers used LAX in 2013

LAX set a record for international passengers in 2013. Photo credit: Brad Graverson, staff photographer.

LAX set a record for international passengers in 2013. Photo credit: Brad Graverson, staff photographer.

Los Angeles International Airport reported record international traffic in 2013, with nearly 17.9 million international passengers using the facility. The previous high was 17.5 million set in 2005.

Overall, 66.7 passengers went through LAX in 2013, an increase of about 5 percent over the previous year. LAX, which saw a sharp downturn in traffic after 2001, is finally starting to rebound in a big way. The airport’s record traffic was set in 2000, at slightly more than 67 million.

I think there’s a great likelihood that LAX breaks that overall mark in 2014. All seems to be going well for LAX, and the airline executives I speak with say the market is strong. (Lest you think they’re spinning me, these same executives do not have such bullish predictions for Ontario and Burbank Airports.)

As for the international numbers, city and airport officials should be proud of them. They have attracted several new airlines since I’ve been covering the beat and persuaded others to use larger airplanes or add new flights. But let’s not start attributing the added traffic to the new international terminal. For one, the building only partially opened in September. And for another — and this is important — most airline and airport people tell me that fancy new buidlings actually have less of an impact on passenger numbers than you might think. Yes, passengers are happpier in nice terminals, but apparently few travelers choose an airport based on the terminal’s amenities.

Here’s some historic LAX passenger traffic data, courtesy of the airport.

YEAR DEPARTING ARRIVING TOTAL
1994 25,812,087 25,238,188 51,050,275
1995 27,234,353 26,674,870 53,909,223
1996 29,162,942 28,811,617 57,974,559
1997 30,313,688 29,828,900 60,142,588
1998 30,826,859 30,388,853 61,215,712
1999 32,298,944 31,980,627 64,279,571
2000 33,836,077 33,467,105 67,303,182
2001 31,007,930 30,598,274 61,606,204
2002 28,181,481 28,042,362 56,223,843
2003 27,544,606 27,438,232 54,982,838
2004 30,343,873 30,360,695 60,704,568
2005 30,649,324 30,840,074 61,489,398
2006 30,500,130 30,540,936 61,041,066
2007 31,244,261 31,194,322 62,438,583
2008 29,930,985 29,884,661 59,815,646
2009 28,288,211 28,232,632 56,520,843
2010 29,605,542 29,463,867 59,069,409
2011 30,923,005 30,939,047 61,862,052
2012 31,857,135 31,830,986 63,688,121
2013 66,667,619
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Inside the numbers: Why LAX could be on track for record year in 2014

LAX traffic is on the upswing, airport officials told the city's airport commisison earlier this month. Staff photo by Brad Graverson.

LAX traffic is on the upswing, airport officials told the city’s airport commission earlier this month. Staff photo of new international terminal by Brad Graverson.

A new Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners took over a couple of months ago, and the group — appointed by new L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti — wanted a full update on traffic trends at LAX.

Luckily for us, that report, delivered at the Nov. 14 meeting, is public record. There’s nothing top secret in the power point airport officials delivered, but it might help you better understand some key LAX metrics.

Let’s take a look at what airport commission members learned:

  • Board members were told LAX is unique because it has no dominant airline. Instead four carriers – -American, Southwest, Delta and United — have roughly equal market shares. This pie chart is a bit misleading because American’s tally includes flights operated by its American Eagle subsidiary. United Express and Delta Connection flights, however, are not include in the larger airline’s tally.  (Many of the Skywest flights in the chart, for example, are operated as United Express.) 

LAX Market Share

  • LAX passenger traffic peaked in 2000, but airport officials are predicting 2014 will be a big year. Also, below, you’ll see New York Kennedy got a big traffic bump from Jetblue, which began operations in 2000. 

LAX chart 4

  • As you can see below, LAX officials are bullish on international traffic. In the past six months, airlines have announced new flights to Stockholm, London Gatwick, Oslo, Jeddah, Abu Dhabi and Sao Paulo.

LAX chart

  • Some of the airport commissioners said they’re concerned San Francisco International Airport is seeking to “steal” many of LAX’s international flights. But this slide below puts the competition in perspective. LAX still has almost twice as many international passengers as San Francisco. 

LAX map

  • In terms of international flights, San Francisco gained on LAX during the middle portion of the 2000s, in part because United and other Star Alliance carriers increased schedules at SFO. But since 2010, LAX has been holding steady against SFO, according to airport officials. 

LAX chart 2

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