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Canadian traffic at Grand Forks International Airport skyrockets in wake of border rules changes

Tracking traveler statistics is done by the airport’s parking lot management company, which counts the number of Canadian license plates in the parking lot.

Grand Forks International Airport 2021.jpg
In January 2021, the Grand Forks International Airport recorded an average of only 1% of its travelers being Canadian. In April 2022, it was 19%. (Grand Forks Herald photo)
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GRAND FORKS — The Grand Forks International Airport has had an influx in Canadian travelers since the border reopened to allow vehicular travel into the United States.

During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the airport was completely cut off from Canadian travelers. Tracking traveler statistics is done by the airport’s parking lot management company, which counts the number of Canadian license plates in the parking lot.

Ryan Riesinger, executive director of the Grand Forks International Airport, said the method is not an exact science, but tracking the numbers over time tells a story of how Canadian travel was impacted during the height of the pandemic versus now.

“Oftentimes, when it comes to actual passengers flying out for airline data, there's a delay for airports to be able to get that information from the DOT,” Riesinger said. “This is a more immediate way to at least give us a barometer check of a rough percentage of Canadians flying out.”

In 2021, the highest registered percentage of Canadian travelers for an entire month at the airport was 9% of all parked cars in November. In January and February 2021, the number never reached past 1%. After a gradual increase in the summer and fall 2021, where 7% of travelers at the airport had Canadian license plates in June and August, there was a brief period where Canadian airport traffic spiked during some days in mid-November when the border briefly opened for Canadian travel into the United States.


Riesinger mugshot, portrait.jpg
Ryan Riesinger

“There was a slight opening of the border,” Riesinger said. “There still were some testing requirements. Also, as you start to get into the holidays, Canada has their own holidays in November, and so in the middle part of November in ‘21, we saw up to 19% of the cars in our parking lot (on certain days) were Canadians, so that was a good indication.”

A short time later, the Canadian government reinstated the molecular testing requirement for Canadians, which then went into effect on Dec. 21, 2021. In December, only 5% of all parked cars at the airport had Canadian license plates.

However, 2022 has been a different story. On Feb. 15, it was announced fully-vaccinated Canadian travelers no longer needed a negative molecular COVID-19 test to enter the United States starting Feb. 28. March and April brought the percentage of Canadian travelers at the airport to 18% and 19% for each month.

Some days in the end of March and early April recorded around 40% Canadian traffic. Riesinger said the change was very welcome, but it’s important to note that time period is during the peak of Canadian travel at the airport.

“We have more seasonal destinations, to Mesa and to Orlando, throughout that period of time, so they’re popular destinations,” Riesinger said. “Of course, when it's cold up here, people want to go that way, but those flights are seasonal, so they don't operate now starting in May, so we'll be gearing back up for the seasonal operations to come back in October.”


Riesinger said there is a lot of pent-up demand for travel right now as it is, and Canadians are no exception. He noted the metro area of Winnipeg and southern Manitoba has a greater population than the entirety of North Dakota.

“It's a very important economic factor for our entire region, and certainly Grand Forks is in the closest position to be able to benefit from our Canadians coming down and coming to Grand Forks, but also utilizing the airport,” Riesinger said. “It's something to be mindful of."

Related Topics: LOCAL BUSINESS
Jacob Holley joined the Grand Forks Herald as its business reporter in June 2021.

Holley's beat at the Grand Forks Herald is broad and includes a variety of topics, including small business, national trends and more.

Readers can reach Holley at him on Twitter @JakeHolleyMedia.
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