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Update: International travel booming at Dulles – with one caveat

China remains elusive as other areas welcome globetrotters with open arms

Excepting Asia, Washington Dulles International Airport is seeing international-service passenger counts in excess – often well in excess – of pre-pandemic times.

According to figures provided in advance of the May 15 Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s board meeting, Dulles’s post-COVID growth was outperforming the average of U.S. international gateways, as well.

Figures are based on data from Innovate Airline Services, reported by Diio, and comparing 2024 traffic levels with those in 2019, before the onset of COVID.

The figures show:

• Europe: Service from Dulles is now at 120 percent of pre-pandemic levels, compared to an average rate of 106 percent nationally.

• Latin America: Dulles is at 179 percent of pre-pandemic levels; the national figure is 124 percent.

• Africa: Dulles is at 139 percent of pre-COVID levels, compared to a national value of 133 percent.

• Middle East: Dulles is at 123 percent of 2019 rates, compared to a national figure of 112 percent.

• Canada: Dulles is at 114 percent of pre-pandemic levels; the national figure is 100 percent.

“It’s exciting stuff,” said Walter Tejada, a Virginia appointee to the airports authority's board of directors.

Asia remains an outlier, but excluding service to China, figures are encouraging: Service from Dulles to (non-China) Asian destinations now sits at 86 percent of pre-pandemic figures, albeit slightly below the national rate of 90 percent.

For China proper, however, the passenger count at Dulles is still just 9 percent of pre-COVID levels, compared to a 33-percent rate nationally, as the Chinese government continues to restrict service levels.

Asia service also is impacted by the inability of carriers to overfly Russian airspace owing to current geopolitical issues. In many cases, that means a flight that ordinarily could be operated nonstop from Dulles now is more efficiently handled by having passengers connect on the U.S. West Coast and then take an onward flight across the Pacific, said Paul Bobson, the airports authority’s vice president of airline business development.

Given challenges in routing passengers to Asia, “our recovery [in international service] is all the more remarkable,” said William Sudow, a Virginia appointee to the airports authority’s board of directors.

Helping matters was the decision by United Airlines, the dominant carrier at Dulles, to begin shifting away from low-season levels of service earlier than usual this year. While the airline typically starts adding internationals service in March, this year that move began around Valentine’s Day.

Still a current challenge: Airlines are facing delays in aircraft deliveries from both Boeing and Airbus, limiting their ability to introduce new routes as they work to keep up with growth in existing demand.