Some travelers are gradually returning to San Francisco International Airport after the pandemic devastated the local aviation industry to an unprecedented degree.
Nine airlines resumed regular international flights over the month to destinations such as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris, Copenhagen, Vancouver and other cities across the globe, according a press release issued Wednesday, July 22, and more are expected back in August.
While the additional activity indicates some sign of life for an industry wracked by COVID-19, airport spokesman Doug Yakel offered measured optimism that a return to normal could be on the horizon soon.
“We do expect additional international service to return in August, but this is very speculative, as the surge of COVID cases has airlines scaling back their plans to resume more flights,” he said in an email.
To illustrate the projected growth, there are 330 international flights scheduled for Monday, Aug. 31 — more than double the 127 international flights which occurred Monday, July 20, according to a recent Airport Commission report. Similarly, there are 1,826 domestic flights scheduled for the date at the end of August, up from 1,514 in late July.
The report further notes that scheduled flights are subject to the judgment of airlines and the metric is a poor gauge for tracking travelers, because so many seats are left empty on each plane.
Should the airport’s 579 international flights and 2,811 domestic flights scheduled for early September occur, those numbers would still be a far cry from the 816 international flights and 3,298 domestic flights that took place the same time last year.
Further detailing the downturn in travel, the report said 200,261 individuals were processed in July at the airport’s security checkpoints — about 1.2 million fewer than the amount that passed through security the same time last year.
To that end, travel plummeted in April, when only 69,217 passengers checked through security — a 97% drop from the same time last year, when roughly 2 million passengers went through gates at the Bay Area’s primary gateway.
Similarly, 117,186 people went through the gates in May, down precipitously from the 2.2 million who traveled through the year prior. Alternatively, the airport’s traffic was roughly on par with the year prior in January and February before the coronavirus outbreak occurred.
Tourism officials have said sudden drop in travel is extraordinary, comparable only to the declines seen in the industry following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In years prior to the pandemic, annual records for the amount of people entering and departing were regularly set at the airport. In 2018, officials said the airport accommodated 58 million passengers. Last year, it was ranked the nation’s seventh busiest airport, generating an estimated $8.4 billion in annual revenue.
As travel trends have changed, so have the requirements for travelers. Face masks are required at the airport, social distancing markers and plastic barriers have been installed in common areas and deep cleaning occurs much more frequently, according to the facility’s website.
More than 350 hand sanitizer stations have been set up too and the Transportation Security Administration has loosened prohibitions allowing travelers to pack a small bottle of hand sanitizer with them on a plane.
Food and drinks are available in terminals and restaurants offer take out, but duty free stores are closed and so are most airline lounges and amenities such as the library, museum and spa or yoga rooms.
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