Busy Myrtle Beach airport had ‘incredible’ year in 2021. Was it good for travelers?

On Saturday, July 17, the line to get through security at Myrtle Beach International Airport stretched the entire length of the airport.
·4 min read

Cabin fever was over for Myrtle Beach in 2021, at least at the airport.

Long a destination for driving, Myrtle Beach International Airport saw thousands of new flights, destinations and hundreds of thousands of new air travelers passing through its gates last year.

The airport had 3.2 million passengers pass through in 2021, a 188% increase over 2020, which like other airports, was hit hard by the pandemic, the airport reported in a news release Wednesday. That’s also a 23% increase over 2019, the previous record holder for most passengers, when 2.6 million people made their way through its doors.

Part of the increase is attributed to Southwest Airlines’ expansion to the airport in May, adding dozens of new flights every week, the airport reported.

Spirit also added hundreds of new flights every week during the summer as it marked its 25th year of service to MYR. Frontier and United added several new nonstop flights to the airport.

Finally, at the end of the year, Canada’s Porter Airlines announced that it would resume flights between Toronto and Myrtle Beach in March for the first time since the pandemic began.

“This has been an incredible year for both the airport and our community as a whole,” said Scott Van Moppes, Horry County director of airports, in a statement.

“Our transition from the challenges and uncertainty of 2020 to the significant recovery of 2021 is a testament to the resilience of the Grand Strand and Horry County,” he said.

A busy year — but a crowded one, too

Yet, even as the airport hails 2021 as hallmark year, the airport’s growth wasn’t easy for some passengers. The airport routinely experienced a record number of travelers, even in times known for being less busy, like October.

In past years, MYR was an airport known for its last-minute travelers. Travelers could arrive at the airport 45 minutes before their flight left, breeze through security and make it onboard with plenty of time to spare. The airport was like that for much of the year, local tourism experts said, even during the summer.

Those days came to an end last summer. In June and July, the airport had hours-long lines to get through security. The lines were so long, they stretched the entire length of the airport at peak times on the weekends.

Reports became abundant of people missing flights because they were stuck in line trying to get through security. Others complained about not being able to order food — or having to abandon it before it was ready — once they were inside security because those lines also were too long.

By midsummer, the airport and the Transportation Security Administration were regularly reminding passengers to show up at least three hours early. They stressed that that meant getting to the airport three hours before the flight, not leaving the hotel three hours before.

Airport faces challenges

Airport officials had little control over some problems. As the summer went on, it became harder to get a rental car. A few times, people reported finally being able to get a car after waiting in line for hours, only to find that the car itself was dirty. In some cases, they stuck with the car, needing a way to get around since the area lacks a strong public transportation system and cars from ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft could cost more than $100 at peak hours, for those who could get a ride at all.

The airport also dealt with hundreds of flight cancellations as COVID made staffing planes harder and bad weather snarled air traffic around the country. Spirit, the airport’s primary carrier, had dozens of cancellations per day for a week in late July and early August, leaving hundreds of people stranded.

By mid-July, however, airport officials were getting a handle on the surge in passengers. TSA had been able to make several operational changes to speed up security processing.

At its worst, the airport had a 71-minute wait time to get through security on July 3. Within a week, the agency was able to cut that down to 38 minutes.

Now, the airport is looking ahead. Plans are underway to expand its existing terminal to add more gates in the next few years. The airport is also adding 100,000 gallons of fuel storage capacity to help with the new flights and will spend $20 million to upgrade its rental car lot.

”As we look toward the future, the airport team is committed to continually improving both the customer experience and operational efficiency, and will always strive to make MYR the gold standard for airports around the nation,” Van Moppes said in a statement.

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