Despite an international pandemic, in a lot of ways it is business as usual at Pensacola International Airport.
Flights are still arriving and departing, though many have been canceled due to fewer travelers as citizens social distance due to COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended suspending all non-essential travel.
Across the country, airlines are cutting back flights.
Between March 19 and 23, Pensacola International saw 36 canceled flights, roughly the equivalent of losing a full day’s worth of travelers. Public information officer Kaycee Lagarde said they have seen a reduction in traffic at the airport.
“It has had a huge impact on our airport. A lot of people are canceling trips and staying home,” she said.
While exact passenger number comparisons are not available, she said parking volume can be a good indicator.
Over a four-day period, average parking volume for the airport was down by about 78% with about 1,600 fewer cars parked in the lots daily.
Restaurant vendors within the airport have also been impacted as they cannot offer sit-down dining. Instead, all locations may only allow grab-and-go dining.
Lagarde said one big change has been the frequency of cleanings. High traffic, high touch spots are being cleaned more frequently she said. These include elevator buttons, escalator handrails, chair armrests, counter tops and other high-traffic public areas. Hand sanitizer stations are also located throughout the terminal for the public’s use.
Airport administrators are also asking that anyone who feels unwell stay home and reschedule travel plans.
Some airports across the U.S. have taken more stringent steps. Concord-Padgett Regional Airport in North Carolina is screening all incoming passengers for a fever. They also have setup cones six feet apart in the queue, designating how far apart passengers are to stand from one another while waiting.
As for closer to home, Lagarde explained many decisions are outside airport leadership’s control. For example, full blown closure is a federal issue.
“The airport is required to remain in operation until the federal government determines a need to place restrictions on interstate transportation, so the airport remains open and operational,” she said.
She said individual airports are not allowed to make that call.
“If individual airports started shutting down that would impact the whole transportation system,” Lagarde said.
Health screening of passengers is also outside of their decision making.
“Screening of passengers would need to come as a directive from the (state) health department. The health department would be the one to conduct the screenings, not the airport,” she wrote in an email.
Some screening requirements have been issued for Florida in recent days. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order that passengers flying directly from New York and New Jersey will have to have screening and temperature checks upon landing in Florida. Those individuals are then being directed to self- isolate for 14 days.
In a press conference, DeSantis estimated that all direct flights from New York would likely have someone on board that is infected. And he said violation of the order is a criminal offense, enforceable by authorities.
The Florida Department of Transportation is overseeing implementation of that order, and Lagarde said screening is expanding to include others states with high numbers of COVID-19 cases including California, Connecticut and Washington.
But Pensacola International Airport has no direct flights from those locations, meaning no screening is currently underway.
“We are ready and willing to accommodate screening if it is deemed necessary,” Lagarde said.
In the meantime, Pensacola International Airport remains open and operational, albeit a little less busy.
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