When the global coronavirus pandemic hit in March, the global air travel industry was badly impacted, with a 73.7 percent reduction in commercial flights in April, compared to the same time in 2019, according to Travel and Leisure. On April 14, 2020, airports reached a low of 87,534 travelers, compared to the same date in 2019 with more than 2.2 million travelers, based on the Transport Security Administration (TSA) data.
Since then, travel has picked back up a little, with 441,255 travelers passing through airports, almost a 100,000-person increase from the previous day alone. While many reported boarding almost empty flights during the first month of coronavirus lockdowns, these low numbers do not mean that flights will still be empty. As the airline industry has had to adapt to minimize loss during this period, airlines have significantly reduced travel services with virtually no non-stop flights and the elimination of middle seats, causing fewer available flights and seats per flight.
Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans has experienced this same struggle, with estimates that passenger activity is down 90 percent for the month of June this year, compared to June of last year, according to New Orleans City Business. Additionally, Alaska Airlines and Allegiant Air are likely to stop service out of New Orleans entirely, according to NOLA.com. This will significantly decrease the available direct flights out of New Orleans, a concern for many who fear contamination from having to visit multiple airports during travel.
Those planning on flying out of Louis Armstrong soon can expect many changes as a part of the airport's plan to continue to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as air travel returns. Among these are signs encouraging a six-foot physical distance between travelers, plexiglass barriers between travelers and airport workers, encouragement of face masks through the terminal, and sanitizing of commonly touched areas.
While passengers are slowly returning to the airport for travel, Louis Armstrong International Airport officials reported that it could take three or four years for the numbers to return to pre-pandemic levels.
Aviation expert Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research Group told Travel and Leisure that airline travel will slowly continue rebounding to whatever the new normal level will be.
"You can expect airlines to begin with flights out of their most important hubs and cities where public health conditions are best and demand is strongest," he said. "But I would encourage people to wait until we get closer to knowing when the U.S. might reenter more normal conditions before starting to book trips."