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Air travel still slow even as more flights resume

(NBC15)
Published: Jun. 14, 2020 at 8:05 PM CDT
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As more states slowly open up, some travel restrictions are lifting, but for the Dane County Regional Airport, not all flights are coming back right away.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Wisconsin in early spring, the Dane County Regional Airport averaged 50 flights a day.

"We were on a real upswing in passengers and flights," said Kim Jones, Dane County Regional Airport director.

Months later in June, the number of flights per day has dropped to 10.

"On average, a little bit seasonal, 2500 to 3500 passengers a day. In mid-April, we saw that number drop to 62 passengers in one day," Jones explained.

That is about a 97 percent drop in travelers. Jones does expect things to return to normal, but it will take time.

Even as more flights resume, travelers said Sunday the airport felt eerily empty.

"The last time I came to this airport I think was a year ago, and it was packed," said Cristian Nieves, a student traveling to St. Louis for a summer job.

Nieves had not flown in months. He had cancelled a trip to Florida to see his family.

"Knowing that I work in a hospital...I don't want to be carrying stuff back and forth," he explained.

Nieves said he is still nervous about getting on a plane, but he is trying to take proper precautions.

"As long as I make sure I'm washing my hands and keeping my mask on, I think everything will be okay," he said.

Not all travelers are worried. Michaela Beal was getting ready to go back home, after flying into Madison earlier in the week

"The plane was clean and I did have a few seats empty for those people around me," she remembered.

Beal said it was nice to go somewhere different after months at home.

"I was supposed to go to Italy, I was supposed to go to Key West so I was really glad to get out and just have a change of scenery," Beal said.

Jones admitted the airport's recovery will be slow, but seeing more travelers every day has made her optimistic.

"If the passenger numbers come back and the demand is there, the flights will come back," Jones said.

National airline traffic is also seeing a slow uptick. Over the weekend, the U.S. saw passenger levels over 400,000 since mid-March, but that is still down more than 80 percent from pre-pandemic levels.

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