Airline coronavirus contractions leave Vermont travelers with fewer options

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) – The coronavirus has slowed down business and leisure travel nationwide, and even with some economic recovery, air travel has not bounced back. That includes the Burlington airport, where the number of flights has dropped by 70 percent and has meant fewer options for people looking to fly.

An empty airport reflects the decline in travel during the coronavirus pandemic

“Flights were not what they were a year ago. Flights are down substantially,” said Gene Richards, director of aviation at the Burlington International Airport. He says they normally see around 9,000 travelers a week this time of the year. Now, they are seeing around 3,000.

Despite the low numbers, no airlines have pulled out of Burlington. “The good news is that many airports our size have lost all service and we actually have — all the airlines are still here and still flying,” Richards said.

But he says with less travel, airlines have adjusted to meet demand and that means some of the normal daily flights are no longer happening. Many routes are only available a few times each week. “That’s why they narrowed down the number of flights that are coming in, because they are really managing it, trying not to have ghost flights,” Richards said.

Travelers we spoke with had mixed reactions on the new schedules and empty airports. “It’s a big issue. This is the only flight out today,” said Cynthia Rowbaghon, a traveler from California.

“It’s strange. It’s empty. It’s very strange traveling, it’s strange right now,” said Stephen Perkins of Florida.

“It’s actually a lot easier to me, and my impression is that it’s safer,” said Larry Reed of Fair Haven.

Richards says he expects once the pandemic is over the service levels will return, or even increase. “Some routes that we have talked about for years, we are talking about integrating them back in when we get started, like the Boston route,” Richards said.

But in the meantime, travelers nationwide could see options further reduced. With $25-billion in federal stimulus funding drying up, many airlines are planning furloughs and further route cuts.

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