The Reno-Tahoe International Airport takes extra steps to stay clean and safe against the COVID-19 virus for all travelers and employees. Reno Gazette Journal
About 545 people were expected to board passenger aircraft at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport on Wednesday, a “pretty good day” for the airport in the age of COVID-19, according to airport authority CEO Marily Mora.
But while that figure stands as an improvement over the 200 or so passengers the airport was seeing in mid-April, it’s still a far cry from the roughly 5,500 daily passengers the region’s largest airport saw this time last year.
“It could possibly be years to get our passenger counts up to where we were before,” Mora said, adding that passenger traffic is down about 95 percent.
Despite that outlook and the continuing risk looming over travel, Reno-Tahoe International is expecting passenger numbers to slowly rebound.
“We think there will be two different types of travelers,” Mora said. “There will be people who are eager to fly … and there are going to be people who are scared to be exposed to COVID-19, that are concerned about flying again.”
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Reno-Tahoe, and the airline industry as a whole, is really focusing on the latter of those two groups — making a concerted effort to make those fearful of travel comfortable with boarding a plane again.
That effort includes requiring employees to wear masks, several airlines reducing the number of people on flights and expanding cleaning protocols.
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Some airlines have even announced they’ll be taking passengers’ temperatures before they board aircraft.
The number of travelers actually on aircraft is pretty low, Mora said. And some carriers, like Southwest Airlines, are opting to keep their middle seats open or not totally booking aircraft so travelers can have space.
“When we have in the neighborhood of 500 people outbound through this airport compared to 5,500 the same day last year, those planes are not very full at this point in time,” she said.
Mora says she expects leisure travel to return quicker than business travel, as most businesses have learned to operate remotely. But for the region, leisure travel is directly tied to the casino and entertainment industry, which remains largely closed.
“To see that leisure market return here we’re going to have to see our casinos open … so there will be things for people from outside our area that they will want to come and do here in our community,” Mora said.
Sam Gross is a breaking news reporter for the Reno Gazette Journal who covers wildfires, emergencies and more. Support his work by subscribing to RGJ.com.
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