On what is typically the busiest travel day of the year, Burlington International Airport sat relatively quiet Wednesday, with a small stream of masked passengers making their way to and from underbooked flights, as most Vermonters stayed home for the holiday.
Throughout the week, the airport is on track to see 2,700 travelers, according to Gene Richards, director of aviation for the airport. That’s just one-quarter of the travelers last year at this time, when 10,500 people made their way through the building.
And the numbers are even relatively low for the pandemic. Richards said in recent months, weekly figures have fluctuated from the low 2,000s to the high 4,000s. However, airport officials said spiking Covid numbers, increased travel restrictions, and a plea from Gov. Phil Scott for Vermonters not to gather with other families for the holiday likely account for the dip.
“We’re quite excited to see those numbers where they’re at,” Richards said. “Less is better right now.”
The airport has been slowly spending the money allocated to it under the CARES Act, dipping into its reserves and cutting back on new projects to weather the slow season, Richards said, though he said the airport, owned by the Burlington city government, still loses a considerable amount of revenue each month the pandemic drags on.
“A year from now, that may be a problem, but it’s not anything we can’t manage out of,” Richards said.
He said in the second and third quarters of 2021, with warmer weather and the possibility of a Covid vaccine, the airport is expected to bounce back financially, as Vermonters begin to feel safe to travel. But for now, Richards said he’s glad that people for the most part aren’t booking flights.
“We have masks all over the airport, we ask people to quarantine, we ask people not to be selfish. If you could just think of everybody else, that’s how we’re going to get a good result on the other end of this,” Richards said.
Travelers at the airport Wednesday reported they plan to follow public health guidelines. Most knew about Vermont’s travel restrictions, and said they were impressed by how safe flying felt.
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Theresa Hazard and her family flew in from Michigan to visit family friends for the holiday. She said they looked up the travel restrictions before the trip, but since they were going to be isolated at a cabin anyway, they weren’t too worried.
“It was quiet, it was nice,” she said of the flight. “I was a little concerned with how busy the airport was going to be, but it was nothing like years past.”
John Meyers of Brandon flew in Wednesday from North Carolina, where he’d been for two weeks helping his daughter with her 1- and 2-year-old kids. He said he didn’t want to leave his wife alone for Thanksgiving, but he still plans to quarantine for the holiday; he and his wife will occupy opposite sides of the house.
“It’s important because she’s a doctor,” Myers said. “I can’t risk her patients getting sick, so when I go home, I’ll quarantine on one side of the house and she’ll be on the other for a few weeks.”
Not everyone is on board with the governor’s guidelines.
“I think it’s a big foolishness,” one man who didn’t want to be identified said of the quarantine restrictions, as he traveled back home to Vermont from Florida. “You’re going to have to get it and get over it; there’s no way to stop it.”
Richards said that kind of risk is exactly why he’s glad for the slow season — regardless of what it means for business.
“Our numbers are down, but that’s OK,” he said. “If they would have been at the 10,000 number, I would have been an absolute mess, knowing that many people were coming and going.”
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