ILM expects high volumes for Thanksgiving after already seeing big year

ILM expects high volumes for Thanksgiving after already seeing big year
Passengers walk through the lobby of ILM. The airport is in the middle of a major expansion project as it continues to see high passenger volume. (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Many in Southeastern North Carolina will take to the skies week to visit family and friends for the Thanskgiving holiday, but the Wilmington International Airport is ready.

ILM officials expect more than 11,000 passengers to make their way through the gates this week, mostly over the course of Tuesday through Saturday. While that might not sound like that many, it’s more than a quarter of what the airport saw for the entire month of October.

“Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of our year,” said deputy director Gary Broughton.

The expected numbers are based on airline bookings, he said, and are about 6% higher than what the airport saw last year. Additionally, he said the airlines are reporting most flights are 80-90 percent booked.

This increase in passengers fits with the trend ILM has seen over the course of 2019.

In every month but October, the airport had more arrivals and departures than 2018, in some cases by almost 7,000 passengers, meaning an overall increase of 15 percent.

Data shows the increase in traffic through ILM, as well as the sharp decline the airport saw thanks to Hurricane Florence in September 2018.
Data shows the increase in traffic through ILM, as well as the sharp decline the airport saw thanks to Hurricane Florence in September 2018. (Source: WECT)
Data shows the increase in traffic through ILM, as well as the sharp decline the airport saw thanks to Hurricane Florence in September 2018.
Data shows the increase in traffic through ILM, as well as the sharp decline the airport saw thanks to Hurricane Florence in September 2018. (Source: WECT)

The trend follows what other regional airports have seen in 2019, and Broughton said the airport is happy to see it.

“It’s exciting that we’ve got our third airline that’s been here over a year now, and we’ve seen a lot of what we call ‘up-gaging’ which is the airlines bringing in larger aircraft so we have more capacity,” he said.

This increase in traffic comes at the same time the airport is working on a major expansion project to the tune of roughly $11.8 million to be completed in three phases.

“The terminal expansion project is on track and on schedule,” airport spokesperson Erin McNally said.

The first phase, which was “behind the scenes,” was comprised of renovating and expanding the mechanical system that handles passenger baggage underneath the terminal. According to the airport website, work on that portion of the project was completed in March.

Phase two, currently underway, focuses on the terminal — primarily the ticketing area, with expansion and relocation of the ticket counters to allow for more kiosks as well as the customer-facing aspect of the new baggage system. Work on those areas is about to begin in earnest, Broughton said, and is expected to be finished by mid 2020.

Finally, the third phase will expand the TSA checkpoints, gate areas and baggage claim. That phase, the largest and most comprehensive by far, is expected to begin construction in late 2020 and be finished by 2022.

Broughton said the additional space will account for the numbers of passengers they anticipate will only continue to grow, but will also allow for amenities to attract additional types of passengers.

“We still are predominately a business market,” he said, adding: “We are trying obviously to attract more leisure travel; Wilmington is a perfect leisure Destination.”

Thanksgiving Weekend Tips

With the expected crowds, Broughton said the airport encourages passengers to arrive two hours before their flight — despite the airport’s history of speedy check in due to being so small.

“Big travel days the main thing is give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport,” he said. “I know, this is Wilmington, and it’s historically been a small airport. We are seeing that growth change now. So give yourself plenty of time.”

The airport has two TSA lines, but Broughton said they are likely to get backed up. Those lines and machinery have also experienced issues several times this year.

Parking, however, should be less of a problem, Broughton said.

Earlier this year the airport transitioned one of the employee lots to a public lot, adding 60 spaces. Additionally, the airport now offers real-time tracking of available parking spots on its website.

Other tips:

  • Leave gifts unwrapped in both carry-on and checked luggage
  • Pies can fly - but be prepared for close inspection at the checkpoint
  • Remove old labels from checked luggage, and make sure your contact information is easily visible

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