Orange County’s John Wayne Airport has prepared for a busier Thanksgiving travel weekend, taking extra precautions against the spread of COVID-19, but monthly traffic passing through the Southern California portal remains significantly down.
The official monthly statistics for October, released by the airport on Nov. 24, show traffic remained down nearly 66 percent from the same month one year ago, with around 308,000 passengers.
Deanne Thompson, the airport’s public affairs manager, told The Epoch Times that passengers are slowly starting to return to the airport. However, she revealed that overall traffic thus far in November, prior to the Thanksgiving rush, was still down 67.5 percent compared to last year.
“It has been a slow but gradual improvement. In the middle of April we were down about 97 percent year-over-year. Since then, we have improved to being down about 68 percent,” said Thompson.
“Being down 68 percent is terrible—but being down 97 percent is worse.”
The drop in airport traffic has remained relatively consistent over the past few months: Passenger volume was down about 68 percent in September as well, compared to the same month in 2019.
"Now we’re at about 35 percent of normal, but that’s still down quite a bit,” Thompson said.
The airport has approximately 20 nonstop destinations currently in service, with some others suspended due to COVID-19. Most passengers travel to and arrive from Phoenix, the Bay Area, and Las Vegas, Thompson said, with people accessing those locations every day.
Southwest, American, and United remained the airport's top three airlines for October, according to the monthly report.
Despite warnings against traveling due to spiking cases of COVID-19 throughout the state and the nation, many passengers are opting to join loved ones for the Thanksgiving holiday. The federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reported nearly 3 million air travelers from Nov. 20 to Nov. 22—less than half the number for the same period a year earlier, but the biggest crowds since the pandemic began in March.
The increase comes even though the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has encouraged people to stay at home for the holiday as COVID cases spike across the country.
"Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year," the CDC advised on its website.
To help protect against spreading the virus, John Wayne Airport has employed a number of health and safety measures to protect those who travel, including placing plexiglass shields between the public and airport staff, increasing the frequency and thoroughness of cleaning the terminal, encouraging physical distancing with marked-off seats, more hand sanitizing locations, and mandatory mask wearing.
Thompson said the airport hopes to be back to 50 percent of its average volume by the end of the year—but given the unprecedented situation, it remains to be seen if that goal is viable.
She added that airport officials have no real way to predict when or how travel will rebound to normal levels.
“Some people have to travel right now for any number of reasons. We want people to know that it is a clean and safe environment,” Thompson said.
“John Wayne Airport is as clean and safe of an environment that you're going to find in a public space. So if you do have to travel we welcome you, and we're doing everything possible to keep you safe while you travel.”