Subsequent week could possibly be busiest for airports in pandemic, however nonetheless not that busy | Coronavirus
MINNEAPOLIS – Airlines and airports are throttling expectations for Thanksgiving amid rising cases of COVID-19 across the country.
The pandemic worsens right before one of the busiest times for air travel.
For months, US airlines have been hoping for a significant increase in sales over the Christmas season. And while more Americans will be flying next week than in the last few weeks, this will now be further slowed by the harmful spread of the virus.
“The situation for the industry is still bad,” Nicholas E. Calio, managing director of the industry trading group Airlines for America (A4A), told reporters on Thursday. “Demand is currently decreasing as everything is running smoothly.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday strengthened their tour guide and urged Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving.
“The reason we made the update is because we’ve seen over a million new cases in the country in the past week,” said Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz, who heads the CDC’s Intervention and Critical Population Task Force.
The CDC begs people to hire them to avoid travel in order to prevent the virus from spreading from one community to the next. The federal agency’s guide also includes a list of things people can do to make the vacation trip as safe as possible.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport expects the passenger security checkpoint for the Tuesday through Sunday Thanksgiving route to be about 65% year-over-year. During the non-vacation weeks, MSP’s passenger count is around 70% below normal.
In 2019, US airlines carried around 81.6 million passengers during Thanksgiving week, according to A4A. This year’s forecasts are much lower. The booked income was even worse, said Calio, and was down 80% compared to the previous year, which was due to greatly reduced tariffs.
Twin Cities-based Sun Country Airlines Thanksgiving bookings are down 40% year over year.
Delta Air Lines, the dominant airline at MSP, declined to give its latest booking forecast, but said it will have at least 40% fewer flights during the Thanksgiving Summit than it did at the same time last year.
One of the biggest changes – and planning challenges – for airlines during COVID-19 is people waiting until the last minute to book flights.
The spread of the virus is constantly changing and people wait until just before their day of departure to make travel decisions. For example, in September, half of all Sun Country passengers booked their flights within a month.
“It remains difficult to predict as people book very close to the trip – even for some of the long haul (international) things that have never been done before,” said Jessica Wheeler, a Sun Country spokeswoman.
Over the past week, the airline has seen an increase in passengers canceling their Thanksgiving trips.
Airports, airlines, and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are trying to prepare those to fly next week for the first time since the pandemic began.
“We expect (Thanksgiving) to be the busiest time since the COVID hit,” said Brian Ryks, executive director of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), at a MAC meeting earlier this week. He said roughly 60% of people who fly for Thanksgiving have not flown since the virus last spring.
The flight experience has changed over the past eight months. TSA agents wear personal protective equipment, acrylic barriers separating agents from passengers, and much more frequent checkpoint cleanings, said David Pekoske, TSA administrator.
“The advice we would give travelers about traveling during Thanksgiving Week is to wear a mask,” Pekoske told reporters on Thursday. “This is one of the best ways to keep the disease from spreading and one of the best ways to protect yourself.”
There are 557 active cases of employees across the country who tested positive for the virus, according to the TSA. Since last spring, 2,981 have tested positive, 2,424 have recovered and nine employees have died, including a long-time screener at MSP Airport.
There have been 31 confirmed COVID-19 cases among TSA staff at MSP. The working date of the last confirmed officer case was November 13th.
“In general, we’re seeing an increase in people exposed, but we don’t know if it’s from work or outside of work,” said Neal Gosman, a spokesman for Local 899 for the American Federation of Government Employees, the TSA’s Workforce.
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, TSA staff are “a little more nervous, but we come to work. We do our work.” Many use the free COVID-19 saliva tests at the airport’s main terminal.
Most major US airports, including MSP, and airlines require the use of masks throughout the terminal and on board the aircraft.
The lack of a federal standard has created a patchwork of local restrictions that industry officials say require travelers to investigate what is expected of them at their destination.
“It’s important to understand the rules and restrictions of your travel,” said Kevin Burke, general manager of Airports Council International – North America. “Know your role in ensuring health and safety (…) and wear your mask.”
(Authors Janet Moore and Joe Carlson contributed to this report.)
(c) 2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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