MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Can an international airport be international if there aren’t many commercial flights to other countries? That’s what Shakespeare would (possibly) ask if he knew about air travel.

Over the years, the Memphis International Airport has gone by many names. It was known as the Memphis Municipal Airport in 1929 before it was renamed the Memphis Metropolitan Airport in 1963. It wasn’t until six years later that the name was changed to what we know today.

The airport currently has nonstop commerical flights to 32 major cities across the U.S. including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, Detroit, and Los Angeles (just to name a few). Raleigh was added as a destination Wednesday.

However, aside from seasonal service to Cancun, Mexico, there are no direct flights to other countries for most of the year, which many may find unusual since it is an international airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration defines a national airport as an airport that provides communities access to national and international markets in multiple states and throughout the U.S.

With this in mind, why should the Memphis airport continue to tote the international title? We asked Glen Thomas, the Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications, this question.

“While oftentimes people focus heavily on commercial air service, it’s important to note that both FedEx and the Tennessee National Guard fly to international destinations on a regular basis,” he said.

According to the airport’s website, FedEx, a Memphis-based company, operates around 400 flights per day and handles more than 180,000 packages and 245,000 documents per hour.

FedEx says packages can be sent to various locations in the U.S. and more than 215 countries and territories.

As far as commercial flights, Thomas said the airport has not had international passenger service other than Cancun and Toronto since 2012 as Delta began removing its hub operations.

In 2020, the pandemic shook up the travel industry and on air service which Thomas said is causing international service to recover slower than domestic.

“In short, we are an origin and destination airport now versus a hub like we used to be. When we were a Delta hub, about 75-80% of our passengers were transfer passengers, meaning that they were coming from somewhere else, connecting in Memphis, then moving on to their eventual destination,” Thomas explained. “That meant that many routes, especially international ones, were sustained by non-Memphis passengers.”

He told us that routes to certain destinations may not be available if airlines don’t feel like it can be profitable.

“As an origin and destination airport, we no longer have that transfer traffic, meaning that it’s all supply and demand. Chances are that if we currently do not have a route to a certain destination, it means that the various airlines don’t feel like it can be profitable.” Thomas said.

On a smaller scale, it boils down to supply and demand.

“It’s a supply and demand issue and traffic has not been significant enough to these international destinations to entice an airline to offer it,” Thomas said.

Despite the challenges, Thomas said the airport is still working with domestic and international carriers to add more flights.

“We continue to have regular meetings with both domestic and international carriers about the potential of adding additional service. Part of those efforts include partnering with the Chamber and Memphis Tourism to get business travel and tourism data to share with the airlines. It’s a marathon rather than a sprint,” he said.

Travelers can now take a trip from Memphis to Cancun via Vacation Express during the airport’s regular summer service.