An Alaska Airlines flight lands at the Juneau International Airport on Monday, Nov. 22, 2021, amid a day of rain and snow. According to an airlines spokesperson, air travel this holiday season has rebounded to about 85% of what it was before the pandemic. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)

Air travel numbers are up, still lagging pre-pandemic levels

More than reindeer fly this time of year.

Holiday season air travel out of Juneau is expected to nearly equal pre-pandemic levels, according to multiple industry officials.

Tim Thompson, spokesperson for Alaska Airlines; Patty Wahto, airport manager for Juneau International Airport; and Andy Kline, spokesperson for Alaska Seaplanes; all said passenger or reservation numbers have rebounded significantly and are just shy of equaling 2019.

“We are seeing people just going out and traveling,” Wahto said.

She said numbers were up considerably from this time last year, when the number of passengers was down 50-75% from a typical year. Traveler numbers for November and December are lagging pre-pandemic travel levels by about 15%, Wahto said.

She said numbers began to ramp up over summer, and that’s carried through the end of the year.

“We are flying anywhere from 80-85% of our 2019 loads,” Thompson said in an email. “Guests can expect full flights over the holidays. We recommend that flyers plan on arriving a bit earlier at airports. This will give them plenty of time to check bags and clear security this holiday season.”

Smaller outfits are seeing similar demand, too.

“Our reservation numbers are comparable to pre-pandemic holiday numbers,” Kline said in an email, but noted that while reservations are up for Alaska Seaplanes, the actual flight numbers are somewhat depressed by recent weather.

“We’ve had visibility and freezing rain conditions the past couple of days and weeks, and this cold weather snap that we are heading into will curtail our ability to fly to our communities that are served by floatplanes — Angoon, Pelican, Elfin Cove and Tenakee Springs,” Kline said in an email. “We are doing everything we can to get cargo to those communities, including using the ferry system in some cases.”

While it’s early, Kline said 2022 is on pace to see similar demand.

“We are generally tracking with 2019 numbers — that’s very general but things look pretty good so far,” Kline said.

The difference a year makes

In December 2020, the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Juneau. Now, vaccinations are available at the airport — at least through January — and appointments can be made online at https://anchoragecovidvaccine.org/juneau.html.

Vaccine hours are 12:30-9:30 p.m., daily, according to Capstone Clinic’s website. COVID-19 testing is also available at the airport. Testing hours are 8 a.m.-11 p.m. daily.

However, Wahto said the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays will affect availability of testing and vaccination. The clinics in Juneau will be closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day, according to Capstone.

Last year, there were COVID-19 testing requirements for travelers arriving in the state. Currently, the state has no specific entry or travel testing requirements, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

However, the state health department advises that pre-travel testing of non-vaccinated travelers is the best way to limit the spread of COVID-19, and recommends social distancing for non-vaccinated people until they receive a negative COVID-19 test.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer travel guidelines.

Wearing a mask over the nose and mouth is required in indoor areas of public transport and indoors in U.S. transportation hubs, according to the CDC.

All travelers should self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever or chills; coughing; shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; fatigue; aches; loss of taste or smell; sore throat; congestion or runny nose; vomiting or nausea and diarrhea.

• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

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