Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read November 2020 — After what has been an extraordinarily difficult year for the aviation industry, an uptick in travelers during the Thanksgiving holiday week is a welcome change of pace for airports and airlines alike. Three million Americans went through U.S. airports over the previous weekend, from Friday Nov. 20 through Sunday Nov. 22, marking the largest influx of airline passengers since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020. While this is providing some much needed relief for the aviation industry, the recent rapid uptick in COVID-19 cases within the United States has left many worried that the increase in air travel will only exacerbate the issue.
Even with the extra precautions that airports and airlines are taking to handle the increased passenger traffic, the fear of a resulting spike in COVID-19 cases has been echoed by some of the nation’s leading disease experts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued warnings and recommendations for people to stay home this Thanksgiving. The United States has recorded more than 1 million new COVID cases over the last week.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also discussed his concerns associated with Thanksgiving and holiday-related travel as it relates to the spread of COVID-19.
“Sometimes when you get a crowded plane, you’re in a crowded airport, you’re lining up, not everybody’s wearing masks, that puts yourself at risk. One of the things we’re really concerned about is that as we get into this Thanksgiving season, you’re not going to see an increase until weeks later. Things lag. So what you don’t want to see is another spike in cases as we get colder and colder into December and then you start dealing with the Christmas holiday. We can really be in a very difficult situation,” Dr. Fauci explained on CBS’s Face of the Nation.
Despite these warnings, there are those who are set on traveling for the holiday. For their part, airports in the Tampa Bay region are focused on facilitating the safest environment to accommodate those travelers. Among them, the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport (PIE) has remained consistent in its messaging and actions throughout the pandemic.
“PIE has multiple signs all over the terminal encouraging social distancing, free masks throughout the terminal, and signage reminding customers that there is a mandatory mask ordinance in place locally,” PIE spokeswoman Yvette Aehle said in an email quoted by the Tampa Bay Times. “Airlines require mask wearing on aircraft.”
For Tampa International Airport (TPA), which saw a 30% drop in passenger traffic for all of their major airlines when comparing October 2019 to October 2020, the increase in passenger numbers for November is a bright spot for the year. Although 2020 has been a down year for TPA, the airport has been implementing a variety of safety measures in preparation for the return of airline passengers. These measures include social distancing markers, touchless technology, acrylic barriers for high-touch areas, mandatory mask usage by passengers and staff and even a COVID-19 testing site within their facilities.
While it is encouraging to see a return of some business, Tampa International has made it clear that its No. 1 priority remains the safety of its passengers. “We also are very aware of the spike in cases,” Emily Nipps, a spokeswoman for TPA, told the Tampa Bay Times. “The focus this year is on safety.”