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DIA passenger traffic last year dropped to its lowest this century

About 33.7 million passengers went through Denver International Airport in 2020, still likely making it the third-busiest airport in the U.S. in an unusual year.

DENVER — In its 25th year of operations, Denver International Airport (DIA) finished out 2020 with 33.7 million passengers, which was a drop of 51% from the year before, the airport announced on Monday.

The last time DIA had similar passenger traffic was in 1997, two years after it opened, when 34.9 million passengers came through, DIA said in a press release. By comparison, 2019 was DIA's sixth consecutive year of growth with more than 69 million passengers.

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted travel when it hit the U.S. early last year. DIA saw its passenger traffic drop from 4.9 million in February to 2.9 million in March to a dismal 299,098 in April.

Its lowest number of passengers came through on April 15, when only 2,026 people passed through TSA checkpoints, the airport said.

While the pandemic disrupted travel, construction also continued all year in DIA's Great Hall terminal.

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For 75 days between April 2 and June 15, DIA had no international flights, and overall international traffic for the year declined by 70 percent from 2019, DIA said. Last year was the first time since 2003 that the airport had fewer than 1 million international travelers.

Passenger traffic began to pick up over the summer, closing in on 3 million passengers in August. In December, more than 3.1 million passengers passed through checkpoints.

DIA was often ranked as the busiest airport in the U.S. throughout the summer and fall, according to the release.

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

"2020 was a year like we've never seen before in the aviation industry," DIA CEO Kim Day said in the release. "After starting with a precipitous 96% plunge in passenger traffic, DEN's traffic has rebounded better than we predicted and finished 2020 ahead of our projections."

RELATED: First international flight since April 1 lands at DIA

Denver's airport will likely end up ranked as the nation's third-busiest airport for 2020, behind Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, the release says.

DIA finished 2020 with service to more than 160 domestic destinations and nonstop flights to 16 nonstop international cities.

In May, the airport became the largest operator for Southwest Airlines. In the fourth quarter 2020, DIA was the largest operator for Southwest, United Airlines, and Frontier Airlines, according to the release.

The airport's mail, freight and cargo operations decreased only 1.6% from 2019, with 667 million pounds of cargo transported during the year.

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