Akron-Canton Airport had its second busiest year ever last year — only dwarfed by the previous year’s record, which was a bit of a fluke.

Last year, a total of 1,723,956 passengers traveled in and out of the airport. The number in 2012 was 1,838,083.

But airport spokeswoman Kristie Van Auken said she knew it would be hard to beat the 2012 numbers.

A few things happened in 2012, including the arrival of massive low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines in August after it acquired AirTran Airways, she said. After the acquisition of AirTran, the airline exited some former AirTran cities and Akron-Canton happened to get some of those flights, Van Auken said.

“We got a lot of bonus flights to Florida, which really bolstered our numbers,” she said. “They had extra airplanes and we got them ... I called it bonus flying.”

For instance, in November 2012, the airport had more seats to all cities than any other time in history.

“That’s a very bizarre month to have that number of seats because its not the busy season. They usually pull back because those three weeks of the month aren’t high demand,” she said.

AirTran and Southwest weren’t flying empty planes, but as Van Auken points out, they weren’t optimized to generate peak revenue.

So in 2013, Van Auken said she knew the passenger numbers would be lower without those bonus flights, and with the loss of the twice daily Southwest flights to Chicago. The airline discontinued the Chicago flight in November because travelers were not going directly to Chicago, but using Chicago as a transfer to other Southwest cities, she said. The airline instead is sending travelers through Denver out west, including adding a second Denver daily flight in June, Van Auken said.

Additionally, in 2013, Frontier Airlines left Akron-Canton in January and moved its operations to Cleveland.

Van Auken said that despite losing Frontier flights, which were often full, “we still had a record year. We continue to remain strong and our customer base has not eroded despite the fact that there have been some pretty significant changes in our network and carrier pattern.”

The airport has four major carriers — Southwest with at least 12 daily departures daily, Delta with 8 daily flights, US Airways with 10 daily flights and United with three daily flights.

“We’ve got the four strongest carriers in the U.S and the four largest carriers serving our market,” said Van Auken.

LaGuardia additions

This year, Southwest will be bolstering its flights at the airport. On May 11, two more daily flights will be added to New York LaGuardia Airport and on June 2, the second daily flight to Denver will start. Additionally, a switchover to Southwest planes — larger planes — from AirTran planes will also take place. Van Auken said about 75 percent of the flights will be on Southwest 737s, which seat 140 people. Southwest has said it expects to complete its integration of AirTran by the end of the year.

Van Auken said it remains especially important to educate Akron-Canton travelers looking for low fares on Southwest to go directly to the airline’s website, www.southwest.com for tickets. Southwest does not sell its tickets via popular ticket aggregators such as Orbitz or Travelocity.

Southwest spokesman Dan Landson said the Dallas-based low fare carrier has been very pleased with its Akron-Canton performance.

“We’re really happy with our performance,” he said. “We have grown and we’re excited to see what’s to come.”

Landson said the removal of the Chicago flights should not be seen as a negative or poor performance for the airport, especially in light of the airline adding the coveted LaGuardia spots starting in May. (LaGuardia spots are restricted by the government and only became available during the US Airways/American divestiture.)

“We’re always watching what our customers want and hopefully trying to provide the best service we can to the most places our customers want to go to,” he said.

When asked whether it was unusual to have service at two neighboring airports such as Akron-Canton and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Landson said no.

“They are both doing well. It’s not that unusual. In California, we have operations in Orange County, Burbank and LAX [Los Angeles]; they’re all right around each other,” he said.

2014 predictions

As for passenger numbers at the airport, Van Auken said airport officials are predicting that 2014 will be closer to 2011 numbers, which prior to 2012 and 2013 were the all-time record at 1,664,397. Van Auken attributes that to the loss of the Chicago Southwest flight.

Overall, the airport passenger numbers are stable, she said.

“That’s a good thing in the airport aviation industry these days to be stable, secure and to have four solid carriers. All of that is very good news for the community and the economic stability of the region,” Van Auken said.

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/blinfisher and see her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.