San Diego airport’s cell lot reopens, a sign of returning air travel

A Southwest Airlines jet comes in for a landing at San Diego International Airport.
A Southwest Airlines jet comes in for a landing at San Diego International Airport, which is seeing a pickup in passenger volumes compared to the early days of the pandemic last year.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

While passenger volumes are picking up, they’re still about half what they were in 2019 during this same time period


With air travel starting to pick up, the San Diego International Airport is reopening its cell lot this weekend following a year-long closure due to the pandemic.

Designed as a convenience for picking up passengers and a way to avoid congestion in front of the terminals, the free lot will have 100 parking spaces where people can await arriving friends and family. The lot, which will be back in service starting Saturday, closed in April following state and county COVID-19 orders that brought air travel to a near halt.

The cell lot is at 3015 N. Harbor Drive. with the entrance situated at the intersection of N. Harbor Drive and Liberator Way. The hours of operation are 5-12:30 a.m., seven days a week.

“The opening of our Cell Phone Lot is a sign of recovery at our airport,” said Kimberly Becker, president of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. “With the traveling public getting vaccinated and schools on break for spring vacation, we saw some of the highest passenger volumes since the start of the pandemic in March and April. We continue to see a steady increase in travelers and we hope the reopening of our Cell Phone Lot will reduce curbside traffic and make picking up arriving passengers hassle-free.”

In March, the volume of passengers, as measured by those passing through TSA checkpoints, was about half what it was during the same period in 2019, said airport spokeswoman Nicole Hall. Several of the busiest days were in late March and early April during spring break, with passenger counts ranging from 22,300 to nearly 23,400, Hall said.

More recently, a big day for travel was last Sunday when the count reached almost 23,000 passengers.

“So we’re seeing a slight increase, and we also think it’s safe to say people are feeling more confident with getting vaccines,” Hall said. “Despite this recent uptick, we are still approximately 50 percent of our 2019 levels.”

The air travel trends seem to mirror what is occurring nationally, although the growth in the number of passengers in the country as a whole has been a bit more robust in recent weeks, On Thursday, more than 2.5 million people passed through security checkpoints at U.S. airports, compared to 1.6 million in 2019 for the same day of the week. That’s a marked improvement over the same day last May when there were a mere 191,000.

While travel surged over the holidays in November and December, passenger volumes in San Diego were still down 67 and 71 percent, respectively, from 2019, according to the airport authority.