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The Springfield-Branson National Airport (SGF) is entering the new year with hopeful signs of recovery.

Allegiant Air this week announced new service between Springfield and Houston Hobby Airport (HOU). The low-cost airline caters to vacation travelers and will run the service twice a week, on Monday and Friday, beginning May 28.

Service to Texas also gets a boost from United Airlines. On March 4 United will resume service between Springfield and Houston Intercontinental Airport (IAH). The airline suspended Springfield service to IAH in May due to the drop off in business caused by the pandemic. Service between Springfield and IAH will be seven days a week, with one daily roundtrip.

American Airlines is pumping things up after months of offering reduced service in Springfield. American is increasing the number of seats for sale in Springfield to levels higher than they were before the pandemic. This increase suggests the airline thinks Springfield passengers will start flying again.

American Airlines is increasing seats per day by 29.7 percent compared to 2019.

These improvements are a welcome relief. In 2020 the pandemic pushed total airport passenger numbers down 49.6 percent compared to the previous year. Airlines responded by cutting the number of seats available in Springfield by 35.5 percent.

The airport served 598,605 passengers in 2020, about half what it served the previous year.

Springfield passenger numbers might have been even lower if not for the relative strength of leisure flying. While the pandemic has been marked by a dramatic decrease in people flying for business, leisure flying has been less affected.

While airport passengers were down 49.6 percent in 2020, other airports in the region saw even larger decreases - as much as 61.9 percent.

Allegiant Air focuses on leisure travel. During 2020 it decreased the number of seats available in Springfield by 20.5 percent. Other airlines, which don’t focus on leisure travel, cut seats considerably more: American: down 30.4 percent. Delta: down 32.8 percent. United: down 50.4 percent.

When the pandemic subsides, airports and airlines expect to see an unleashing of pent-up travel demand.

The U.S. Travel Association reports research showing that 63 percent of Americans say they “desperately” need a vacation and 72 percent of employed Americans say they’ve “set aside time to plan out vacation days for the coming year.”

A news release from Springfield-Branson National Airport said that even with a passenger surge in 2021, many in the travel industry think it will be 2024 before airlines and airports fully recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.