It has now been three months since we saw passenger traffic bottom out at the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, with numbers dropping 95% for the month of April. Normal traffic for April is approximately 200,000 passengers, traffic decreased to less than 10,000 passengers. Since that time, the airport has seen incremental increases each month. In May, close to 40,000 passengers went through the airport and, as I write this article, June appears to be tracking in the 55,000-passenger range. These are hopeful signs for a recovery not just of the airport’s business but a rebound for our tourism industry, which is so critical to our resident’s economic well-being.
If July’s scheduled airlines flight additions hold, it appears the airport may be at a turning point. During the pandemic, most of the airport’s flights disappeared but have been building incrementally. July will see this trend continue. American Airlines is adding Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and New York, LaGuardia, which is a new city-pair for that airline. Delta presently has three daily flights to Atlanta and is adding a fourth daily frequency. Frontier Airlines is adding Cincinnati and Chicago service on Saturdays after starting Cleveland and Philadelphia on Saturdays in June. Allegiant is providing a minimum of twice-weekly service to 13 destinations and will return eight more destinations in August. You can check out all our schedules on www.srq-airport.com.
Hopefully, the recent increase in positive COVID-19 test results in Florida is short-lived and does not negatively impact this rebound. Readers can find a myriad of statistical virus data updates daily by reading The Covid Tracking Project at covidtracking.com. It helps to flush out the daily facts without the bias soup that you find in some social and media sources.
Airports and airlines continue to make tremendous efforts to keep your journey safe by following Center for Disease Control guidelines for sanitizing public interfaces: cleaning with disinfectant all check-in kiosks, ticket counters, gate seating — among other frequently touched areas — multiple times a day and providing hand sanitizer throughout ticket and boarding areas. Face masks are required of all airport employees in the public areas and social distancing markers are in all queuing lines. The airport is also evaluating new technologies for real-time temperature reading of employees and passengers.
The TSA is asking travelers to use enhanced precautions during airport screening, including putting personal items such as wallets, phones, and keys into carry-on bags instead of plastic bins, and staying 6 feet from others waiting in line. TSA officers are required to wear masks and gloves, and travelers are encouraged to wear masks as well.
Passengers can bring liquid hand sanitizer in a container that is up to 12 ounces in carry-on bags; previously, liquids could be in containers of no more than 3 ounces. Also, passengers can board flights with driver’s licenses that expired beginning March 1, 2020, “to use it as acceptable ID at checkpoints for one year after expiration date, plus 60 days after the COVID-19 national emergency.”
Face masks are now mandatory with all airlines; if you don’t have one, you will be given one. Many airlines are boarding from back to front, and virtually all international jetliners are equipped with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, like those used in hospitals, capable of blocking more than 99% of airborne microbes. Cabin air is circulated vertically, from ceiling to floor, and refreshed every two to three minutes. The airline rules continue to evolve, and some major U.S. carriers will be requiring a “simple health acknowledgment” affirming they do not have coronavirus symptoms nor contact with anyone who tested positive in the previous 14 days.
While some travel restrictions for Floridians currently exist when traveling to New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut where an order from the Governor expects visitors from Florida to self-quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, the remaining 46 states have no restrictions as I write this.
The airport and the community have seen some economic rebound. Hopefully, we have turned the corner and can start the long journey back to normalcy. While the development of a vaccine is the ultimate solution, if you are contemplating a summer getaway be assured that your local airport and all its carriers are doing everything possible to make your journey safe and enjoyable.
Rick Piccolo has been president and chief executive officer of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport since 1995 and serves on various international aviation, business and charitable boards. He can be contacted at Fredrick.email@example.com.