CBS 58 Investigates: Future of flying ✈️
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – The number of passengers flying this holiday weekend is down almost 90 percent from a year ago, according to Transportation Security Administration data. Air travel has been decimated by coronavirus, but airlines have been making lots of changes to make flying safer for passengers’ health. Passengers will see changes on planes, at the airport, and if this crisis lasts long enough, maybe even the routes they can fly.
“Lots of hand sanitizer stations, other than that, just less people,” said Marquette University sophomore Noah Hungate.
Hungate was flying back home to California after emptying his dorm room. While he saw people wearing masks, and empty airports, he wasn’t too concerned about catching coronavirus while traveling.
“Just keep your distance and wash your hands, and do the basic normal hygiene stuff and you should be fine,” said Hungate.
State lockdowns, remote working, and fear have caused major changes to air travel. TSA screening data show a huge decline in the number of passengers screened through security at airports. Embry Riddle University Aviation Professor Bijan Vasigh compares the impact from coronavirus to 9/11 and the great recession combined.
“The lack of safety and economic collapse, I don’t think the history, or the modern history of aviation unfortunately has seen such a downturn in the air transport industry,” said Vasigh.
He said airlines are implementing changes to make their passengers feel safer. Nearly all have announced new cleaning procedures, including having workers with disinfectant guns spray down planes’ interiors. Some airlines will check passenger temperatures, and many require masks to board, although other news articles have reported on questions over how strictly mask requirements will be enforced.
Airlines have also parked aircraft and cut their schedules. Many say they’ll try and keep middle seats empty, but as this tweet from a United passenger showed..
I guess @united is relaxing their social distancing policy these days? Every seat full on this 737 pic.twitter.com/rqWeoIUPqL— Ethan Weiss (@ethanjweiss) May 9, 2020
Leaving the middle seat empty is not always possible. Vasigh warned it’s also not profitable.
“Can they make money with 70 percent (capacity), absolutely not,” said Vasigh.
Airlines have also started adding social distancing markers and protective barriers at their gates and ticket counters.
It may also get harder to fly to some airports. Airlines have asked the government to allow them to suspend or delay service to routes with few customers. For example, United and Frontier asked the government to allow them to stop flying to Green Bay. Frontier also wanted to stop flying to Madison. The government denied those requests. Ultimately, ticket prices may increase as well.