Travelers arriving at the Juneau International Airport on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, made up only about half of what the airport normally sees in the days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Travelers arriving at the Juneau International Airport on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, made up only about half of what the airport normally sees in the days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Air travel down by more than half, airport officials say

It may take years to return to pre-pandemic numbers

Air travel through Juneau is down more than 50% from previous years, according to statistics from the Juneau International Airport, and while travel for the Thanksgiving holiday did increase locally, it will likely be years before numbers reach their pre-pandemic numbers.

“With even more restrictions, the COVID numbers are climbing, fewer people are traveling in the state of Alaska,” Patty Wahto, Juneau’s airport manager.

In past years, in the days leading up to Thanksgiving “we would normally show 750-800 people leaving Juneau, we’re down to around 330-40,” Wahto said.

Those numbers were strictly for the larger carriers such as Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, Wahto said, the numbers for smaller carriers like Wings Airways weren’t yet available to the airport. The airport keeps month-to-month data and 2020’s numbers from October show a significant decrease from previous years.

According to airport data, there were 58% fewer passengers traveling with Alaska and Delta Airlines this year than in October 2019, more than 165,000 fewer passengers.

Alaska Airlines spokesperson Tim Thompson declined to share any exact numbers with the Empire but said in an email the airline is flying at 40-50% capacity as part of its COVID-19 safety plans.

[CDC pleads with Americans to avoid Thanksgiving travel]

Juneau airport saw about 55% fewer passengers Tuesday than on Nov. 24, 2019, a Sunday, Wahto said. Days of the week affect how much travel there is on a particular day so comparing exact dates from year to year isn’t always the best comparison, but Wahto said she imagined there would be little difference when daily data is made available.

The larger carriers have seen anywhere from 55-62% fewer passengers in the past few months, but that was significantly better than the 95% decrease airlines experienced in April, she said. Alaskan travelers tend to make allowances for weather delays and don’t typically travel on the days immediately before Thanksgiving, Wahto said, but the airport is seeing higher travel.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as wll as state and local officials urged people not to travel in the days before the Thanksgiving holiday, citing rising coronavirus cases across the nation and the strain on local health care. Roughly 3 million travelers went through U.S. airport checkpoints Friday through Sunday the Associated Press reported, the largest crowds since mid-March when the pandemic first struck.

Though travel numbers are increasing, it’ll be some time before Juneau starts seeing the number of air travelers it did in the years leading up to the pandemic, Wahto said.

A data table from the Juneau International Airports comparing travel numbers for the month of October from 2015-2020. Numbers for November aren’t yet available but airport officials expect travel to be down significantly in that month as well. (Courtesy photo / Juneau International Airport)

A data table from the Juneau International Airports comparing travel numbers for the month of October from 2015-2020. Numbers for November aren’t yet available but airport officials expect travel to be down significantly in that month as well. (Courtesy photo / Juneau International Airport)

With talk of a vaccine on the horizon, the Federal Aviation Administration is looking to the future, Wahto said, and has said it may take several years before travel numbers return to their pre-pandemic numbers. Following Sept. 11th, it took nearly 10 years before travel numbers returned to their previous highs, Wahto said, and the FAA has said a post-pandemic recovery could take anywhere from five to 10 years.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” she said. “Even next year, there’s going to be a lapse between when we back into normalcy of travel.”

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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