Why are flights from Atlanta to Florida so popular right now?

Domestic air travel in the US has recovered to higher levels than the overall market. Data from OAG reveals that four out of the top five routes in the country link the capital of Georgia with Florida. Key.Aero explores why this might be the case

According to data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), North American airlines’ January traffic levels fell 79% compared to the same period in 2019. 

Capacity was also reduced by 60% and load factors dropped nearly 38 percentage points to 43%. 

However, exclusively within the domestic market, traffic levels fell by only 60% compared to January 2019 and capacity by just 38%. 

Load factors on these intra-American flights stand at around 50%, but where are these people flying? 

According to global travel data provider OAG, four of the top five busiest routes this month all originate from Atlanta/Hartsfield Jackson International and land at various Florida-based airports. 

Delta Air Lines is based at Atlanta/Hartsfield Jackson International. Aviation Image Network/Bailey

The top connection with 274,000 seats in March is Atlanta-Orlando followed by Fort Lauderdale and Miami with 257,000 and 220,000, respectively. 

Fourth on the list is Denver-Phoenix with 201,000, while Atlanta-Tampa comes in fifth with 197,000 seats. 

Last year, the busiest North American domestic route linked Los Angeles with San Francisco. This city pair boasted 4.7 million seats for the year, or about 388,000 each month. Following closely behind was New York/JFK-Los Angeles with 4.2 million annual seats. 

Aviation Image Network/Simon Gregory
Low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines also operates numerous flights from Atlanta to Florida airports. Aviation Image Network/Simon Gregory

Las Vegas-Los Angeles, New York/La Guardia-Chicago/O’Hare and Vancouver-Toronto rounded off the top five with 3.9, 3.8 and 3.5 million seats for the year. 

The most notable omission from the top five is Atlanta and Florida airports, which this month appear to be exceedingly popular among travellers. 

In recent months, major US airlines have increased capacity to Florida as signs have emerged that the market for leisure travel is beginning to bounce back while business travel continues to be at record lows. 

United Airlines
A United Airlines executive said everything the carrier does "stems from demand". Aviation Image Network/Simon Gregory

Speaking to Bloomberg, Ankit Gupta, United Airline’s vice president for domestic network planning said: “The sunshine states are seeing much more travel demand than before, on a relative basis, while it evaporated in the Northeast.” 

Delta Air Lines, which is based at Atlanta/Hartsfield Jackson, is likely to be responsible for the majority of the seats from Atlanta to the four Florida-based airports. 

This rise in flights to the East Coast state has raised alarm bells for those who live the area. They are concerned about the recent rise in the UK variant across 34 states which is more concentrated in places like Florida and California. 

great circle mapper
Courtesy Great Circle Mapper

There has been much talk about implementing travel restrictions and COVID-19 testing for travellers. The Tampa Bay Times reported last month that President Biden was considering whether to impose domestic travel restrictions on states such as Florida. 

Tourist bodies including Visit Florida are not warning people not to travel to the state and according to a list, the majority of its beaches are open as normal. 

This could explain why there are so many seats available to the state’s airports as airlines attempt to capture the demand from people wanting a beach break amid cold winter weather elsewhere in the country. 

With temperatures in Miami hovering around 30°C, it’s not hard to see why.