Officials used data collected during the COVID-19 pandemic to choose where to create new non-stop flights.
KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Air travel in Knoxville is surging back up to pre-pandemic numbers, officials said. Almost 2 million people flew through McGhee Tyson Airport last year, just shy of the record set in 2019. There are also three new direct flights to major cities.
McGhee Tyson Airport already has non-stop flights to 30 markets. The airport has three new direct flights to Phoenix, Baton Rouge and Minneapolis/Saint Paul.
“We have been fortunate traffic here has come back really strong and with the growth in passengers we generally get more flights,” said Jim Evans with the Airport Authority.
More flights mean the airport needs more space. The Metropolitan Tennessee Airport Authority said it is exploring options to expand Knoxville’s airport.
The Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority said it analyzed operations data during the COVID-19 pandemic to identify who is visiting East Tennessee, and where to create new flight paths.
“From major markets like Chicago, New York, down into the Texas markets, places where they wanted to get out of a large city and come and experience nature,” Evans said.
In turn, he said, they’re able to provide more non-stop flights to locals.
“It gives our people a great new place to go on a non-stop flight, so it’s great for not only inbound travel but also for outbound travel,” Evans said.
With outbound travel picking up, the airport is also accommodating University of Tennessee fans this fall, with direct flights to Baton Rouge.
“We’re excited to see how it will do, so if you want to go to the LSU game you can now go down there non-stop and come back non-stop,” Evans said.
If travel demand continues following this trend, Evans said, ticket prices could continue to go down too.
“The more low fare service you have, it drives down the average price of a ticket. Is it going to be a massive drop overnight? Probably not but flying has certainly gotten more affordable for McGhee Tyson than it was years ago,” Evans said .
Airport officials said they’re also bringing back non-stop flights to Myrtle Beach in the next couple of weeks, just in time for summer.