The Height of Convenience

Ontario International Airport flying high as holiday travel approaches

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Ontario International Airport (ONT), already the fastest-growing airport in the United States, is preparing for one of its strongest holiday travel seasons ever.

More than 10 million Southern Californians live or work closer to ONT than any other airport, and with new flights and amenities, Ontario will close 2022 with its highest passenger volumes since 2008.

“We’ve been able to pick up where we left off before the pandemic, increasing flights and destinations and providing travelers with a customer experience they won’t get anywhere else,” says Atif Elkadi, ONT’s chief executive officer. 

The estimated 5.8 million passengers who will fly into or out of Ontario by the end of December represents an increase of 200,000 over 2019 — the last full year before COVID-19 disrupted air travel globally. In fact, ONT is one of the few airports in the world that have exceeded pre-pandemic passenger volumes each of the past seven months.

“Ontario International continues to prove itself as the airport of choice for millions of Southern Californians. The double-digit increase in passenger volume last month reinforces the important role we play in meeting the air travel needs of one of the most robust population and economic centers in the country,” says Alan D. Wapner, president of the Ontario International Airport Authority (OIAA) Board of Commissioners and mayor pro tem of city of Ontario.

Since the airport’s return to local ownership in 2016, Ontario has added such high-profile destinations as Honolulu, New York City, Taiwan and Latin America; greatly expanded its offering of restaurants and shop; and added high-end passenger lounges — all while maintaining the convenience and ease of access that it’s known for. 

This fall, just in time for the holiday travel season, the airport ONT+ free service allows the nontraveling public to greet families and friends at the gate, or spend more time with them as they prepare to depart, all while enjoying ONT’s enhanced amenities. Nontraveling guests can simply go online and secure a digital visitor pass, which they can use — much like an airline ticket — to enter TSA checkpoints and access the post-security side of the passenger terminal. The program, among the first of its kind in the United States, provides the community access to the terminal and airport services that have largely been unavailable to nontravelers since before 9/11.

“We all remember the excitement of being able to meet arriving family and friends as they get off the plane. ONT+ is a way to bring back some of that experience from decades ago, in a safe and secure manner,” says Dean Brown, ONT public safety administrator, who worked closely with TSA in establishing the program.

To receive an ONT+ visitor pass, nontravelers can visit and fill out an online application within seven days of their visit. If approved, visitors will receive an ONT+ Visitor Pass via email, which they can use — along with a TSA-approved photo ID — to enter the security checkpoint.  

“ONT+ is another example of how Ontario International is always at the forefront of amenities and services that can enhance the customer experience,” Wapner says.

While all of this is happening, a new study shows that ONT is an economic engine for Southern California, generating $3.8 billion a year in activity, supporting 27,800 jobs, and serving as the hub of a global logistics network that produces $17.8 billion in economic output.

The analysis, by Oxford Economics, incorporated nearly a year’s worth of research, concluding that the overall impact of economic activity at ONT — including airport operations, airlines and their suppliers, government workers, airport concessions and logistics companies — totals $3.8 billion as of 2022. This includes $2.7 billion in visitor spending, Oxford reported.

“Ontario International Airport plays an integral role in the economy of the Southern California region, specifically in and around the Inland Empire,” the report states, adding that ONT’s economic impact includes $2.2 billion in regional gross domestic product (GDP), which supports 27,800 jobs and results in $571 million a year in local, state and federal taxes.

Oxford also looked at ONT’s role a supply chain hub, analyzing logistics activity in the eight ZIP codes adjacent to the airport. The results placed Ontario International at the center of a global network that accounts for $17.8 billion in economic output; $9.9 billion of GDP; 122,200 jobs; and $2.3 billion in local, state and federal taxes. 

“The economic impact of Ontario International Airport is felt across the region and around the world. We’re excited to be able to share our story with the communities and shareholders we serve, and look forward to building on our position as the gateway of choice for millions of Southern Californians,” Elkadi says.

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