Passenger travel at Bay Area airports has steadily grown over time, primarily at San Francisco International Airport.
After the pandemic-related slump in 2020, passenger boardings at Bay Area airports are rising again. But boardings in 2021 are still less than half the number in 2019. However, the long-term trend foresees rapid growth, reflecting growing air travel demand from Bay Area residents and increases in passengers arriving in the Bay Area for work, tourism, or connecting flights. San Francisco International Airport (SFO), with almost 60% of the region’s total passenger boardings in 2021, is the Bay Area’s busiest airport.
Sonoma County Airport (STS) in Santa Rosa recorded almost 216,000 boardings in 2021, accounting for 1% of the regional total. With terminal expansion underway, the airport has provided a valuable alternative for North Bay residents traveling to select West Coast cities. If regional demand for air travel continues to increase over the coming years, additional capacity in Santa Rosa, Oakland and San Jose may provide relief to SFO, the region’s primary passenger hub.
San Francisco (SFO) saw 11.7 million passenger boardings in 2021, which is 42% of the level seen in 2019 (27.8 million)
Historical Trend for Airport Activity — Passenger
Bay Area airport freight levels have not been immune to economic shocks over the past few decades, though some areas of resilience exist.
Total airport freight activity in the Bay Area has experienced dramatic changes over the past few decades. In the mid-2000s, total Bay Area airport freight volume peaked at over 1.5 million tons of annual freight tonnage, but then dropped significantly during the Great Recession. During the 2010s, activity gradually crept upwards but suffered another decline amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 2021, total airport freight activity appears to be increasing once again.
Airport freight activity at Oakland International Airport (OAK) has been relatively resilient since the Great Recession. OAK, in stark contrast to the other regional airports, avoided a steep decline in activity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Actually, in 2021, OAK experienced its highest tonnage since its previous peak in 2007, right before the Great Recession. As of 2021, more than half the region’s domestic air cargo activity occurs at OAK.
Oakland (OAK) handled almost 20% more air freight in 2021 than it did just five years earlier
Historical Trend For Airport Activity — Freight
Over the past decade, the strong California economy has spurred substantial growth in boardings at Bay Area and Los Angeles airports.
Most major metro areas across the country have seen growth in passenger boardings over the past several decades, and the booming California economy has powered substantial growth at airports in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. From 2010 to 2019, passenger traffic in the Bay Area has grown by almost 50%. Elsewhere in California, airports in the Los Angeles metro area had approximately 53 million boardings in 2019.
Nationwide, passenger air travel was hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, passenger boardings dropped below 1990 levels for almost all major metro areas. Passenger air travel has since started recovering and in 2021 most metro areas were serving more passengers than they did in 1990. One exception would be the Bay Area, which in the year 2021 served ~1.5 million fewer passengers than it did in the year 1990.
In 2021, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) had approximately 31 million passenger boardings
Metro Comparison for Airport Activity — Passenger
Sources & Methodology
Freight data is reported in metric tons. Regional Bay Area airports include Oakland (OAK), San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC), and Santa Rosa (STS).