BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Summer travel is heating up everywhere, including the Tri-Cities Airport.

Due to the pandemic, numbers of passengers have been slow the past couple of years, but airport officials are glad to report those numbers are on the up again.

“I feel like everyone’s tensions were really high, and it’s been really relaxing the last couple of months to kind of be reintroduced into ‘normal’ flying,” traveler Ash Lodge said.

Due to such a large increase in traffic, airport officials said they will now re-open the “long-term express” parking lot for the first time since 2020.

From January through May, passenger numbers at TRI were just over 141,000 which is about a 50% increase from the number who traveled through the airport last year.

Passenger numbers are at 85% of 2019 numbers for the same period.

“That demand is taking us back to where we were pre-2019, pre-COVID with just the sheer number of people that live in this area and want to travel,” Tri-Cities Airport Executive Director Gene Cossey said. “We’re also seeing a growth in the demand as people are moving into the area and as more people want to come here to visit.”

But more passengers is not without its challenges, Cossey said luckily, they haven’t had many issues with flight delays, but many other airports have had issues as a result of pilot shortages.

Traveler Mikayla Huffcut said she booked her flight to Utah in January but has encountered some barriers.

“We’ve had it planned a long time, but our flights did change a lot,” Huffcutt said. “Which was kind of stressful. We had to make sure that they still met with our other connections.”

Cossey said to keep in mind that plane capacity levels at the Tri-Cities Airport are not at 100% yet, so booking ahead as early as possible is recommended.

“We’re excited to see all of the old customers that are coming back and getting back to flying,” Cossey said.