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John Wayne Airport tries to lure travelers as passenger count makes slow rebound

John Wayne Airport officials have put in place new public health measures and conveniences they hope will make people more comfortable visiting the airport during the coronavirus pandemic, but project passenger traffic this year could still be around half what it was in 2019.

The abrupt dropoff in travelers that began in March as the coronavirus gained a foothold in the U.S. led airport officials to close off two of John Wayne’s three terminals, and they remain closed, although airport spokeswoman Marisa Unvert said one may soon reopen as needed, depending on flight schedules.

The nadir of travel at JWA was in early April, when the airport only saw about 500 passengers a day compared with about 32,000 a day in pre-virus times, Unvert said.

“We’ve just started seeing an increase in passengers, where we’re at 4,000 (per day) now,” she said, adding that the start of the summer travel season gave the airport a bump that seems to have since plateaued. Some airlines are projecting it could take up to four years for a full recovery, she said.

By the end of 2020, airport officials hope to be at 50% to 60% of 2019 levels, Unvert said, when 10.6 million passengers passed through John Wayne and commercial flights made nearly 92,000 takeoffs and landings, according to airport data.

To help people feel safer when the pandemic struck, airport staff immediately increased the cleaning schedule and put up signs reminding people about social distancing and hand washing, and since then they’ve installed plastic barriers between employees and customers, added hand sanitizer dispensers around the terminal and required face coverings for everyone.

New signs reminding people about social distancing are among a number of measures in place at John Wayne Airport to help keep travelers safe during the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy of John Wayne Airport)

They’ve also added no-touch service for checked bags using a kiosk that prints out luggage tags. Some restaurants offer online ordering from your phone and will deliver to airline gates, and instead of crowding onto a barstool, passengers can order alcoholic beverages to go and sip them elsewhere in the terminal.

Before the pandemic, JWA was testing OC AirPASS, which allows people who aren’t flying to get past security into the terminal.

Other airports with programs that allow visitors into secured areas without a boarding pass include those in Pittsburgh, Tampa, Detroit, Flint, Seattle and New Orleans, JWA spokeswoman Deanne Thompson said via email.

Unvert said the idea is people could have a meal with a loved one before their flight or walk a child traveling alone to their gate.

“Eventually that is the hope, that not only will you be meeting somebody at a gate or taking them to the plane, but maybe you just want to go watch the planes,” Unvert said.

While the drop in passengers and flights has been a concern for airport officials – Unvert said they’re applying for federal pandemic relief funding to help pay expenses – it’s been a relief for some residents in surrounding neighborhoods who detest plane noise.

“I’ve heard many comments about how delightful it is,” Nancy Alston, a board member of Still Protecting Our Newport, about not hearing planes taking off every few minutes all day long. “You can watch TV, you can eat on your patio – we’re an outdoors community.”

Alston wants people to resume traveling when it’s safe and she’s worried about local businesses that have suffered from the lack of tourism, she said, but “this definitely has been a silver lining.”

Source: Orange County Register

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