John Wayne Airport cuts seat capacity to stay within passenger cap

John Wayne Airport staff is requiring airlines to reduce their flight capacity amid a busy holiday season to stay within its 11.8 million annual passenger cap.

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By the end of October, the airport had served 9.9 million passengers. With a little over a month left in 2023, John Wayne Airport is at risk of exceeding its annual passenger limitation and falling out of compliance with a 1985 agreement between Orange County, Newport Beach and community organizations Airport Working Group and Stop Polluting Our Newport. The settlement created several rules for the airport, including noise limits and an annual passenger cap.

The agreement caps annual passengers at 11.8 million, leaving the airport to divide the number of available seats to its airlines. Airlines report how many of those seats they fill through the year, and empty seats mean additional capacity that can be added to other flights as long as the airport is still under the passenger cap.

As the economy has fluctuated and travel returned in full force, John Wayne Airport Director Charlene Reynolds said airlines were asked in late August and early September, when staff first noticed the number of passengers was at risk of exceeding the cap, to voluntarily return seats — but those returns weren’t enough.

With projections for the holiday travel season, the airport was at risk of going 50,000 to 75,000 passengers over the limit by December. If the airport were to surpass the passenger limit, the issue would be taken up to court.

“Once we got the October numbers, we’re still in a position that we could exceed the 11.8 (million), so therefore it was my recommendation that we implement a mandatory (return),” Reynolds said during a Nov. 7 Board of Supervisors meeting. “Those airlines that have already voluntarily given back seat capacity, they won’t be impacted as much because we would credit them. Those that gave a little, but not what we requested, it will impact them.”

“People want to fly. It correlates to jobs and a strong economy, but we have this settlement agreement in which we must comply.”

Air travel throughout the U.S. has significantly exceeded expectations, according to the staff report included with the Nov. 7 item. John Wayne Airport is seeing record numbers of passengers and higher-than-expected seats being filled.

“The current situation, created by a historic surge in passenger numbers and concerns about approaching the MAP (million annual passenger) limit, is unique to the ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and has not been experienced before,” AnnaSophia Servin, airport spokesperson, said in an email. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, travel cycles and airline projections historically followed a more predictable pattern.”

Servin says this is a “unique” situation due to the ongoing recovery from the pandemic.

However, in 2019, Southwest Airlines curtailed its service at John Wayne Airport, part of a three-year reduction because the airline was allocated fewer seats by the airport to keep in line with the passenger cap. (Then, the annual cap was 10.8 million passengers; it was bumped up by 1 million at the end of 2020.)

This time around, the hope is that flights won’t have to be outright canceled during the bustling holiday season.

“Airlines are responsible for the method used to adjust plans to stay within capacity limits. These measures are focused on minimizing the number of cancellations through the end of the year,” Servin said.

Fifth District Supervisor Katrina Foley said it has been a really robust year for travel at John Wayne Airport.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register


  1. Rico Lagattuta says

    Seat capacity limit is a stupid rule!

  2. Stewart Davis says

    Left lunatics again screwing with the free market. Make no sense on so many levels. If you fly with only half the seats full, you still have pollution, both noise and environment. Not solving anything. In addition the local government that rely on taxes would be better served by passenger tax than only relying on local residence to pay for their nonsense.

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