Salt Lake Airport Sees Slight Bump In Holiday Travel, But Still Far From Normal
Typically the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and Sunday after are some of the busier travel days at the Salt Lake City International Airport. This year, it saw a slight uptick in passengers compared to previous months — despite health officials urging people to stay home — but still nowhere near the number of people that usually come through.
About 13,000 travelers visited the airport both days, accounting for some of the airport’s busiest days since the start of the pandemic, according to spokeswoman Nancy Volmer. Sunday also marked the largest number of passengers at airports across the country during the pandemic, but travelers in both Utah and nationwide are still only about half of what airports usually see this time of year.
The Salt Lake airport has been averaging about 10,000 passengers a day the last several months — also down significantly from years past. Volmer said that has halted construction plans on its second concourse and slowed openings of concessions, but the airport is still in good shape financially.
Utah health officials have said flying on a plane is relatively safe because people are required to wear masks and air is filtered. But getting to and from the airport, as well as being there, are still pretty high risk situations.
Volmer said they do not do contact tracing for people who may have been exposed to COVID-19, so it is hard to know if travelers will contribute to potential increases in case numbers. But about 1% of airport staff have tested positive since the start of the pandemic, and most of them contracted the disease outside of work, she said.
Volmer said officials have been vigilant about safety measures, such as only allowing ticketed passengers in the building and requiring everyone to wear masks. The new building, which is bigger than the old one, has also helped people keep their distance.
“Our focus from the curb to the gate has been to make sure that we have everything in place possible, any protocols to make sure that our passengers can feel safe,” she said. “We recognize it's an individual choice at this point [to travel], and we want to make sure that those who choose to fly feel very comfortable doing so.”
Vicki Varela, director of the Utah Office of Tourism, said market research is showing the more that businesses — including airports and airlines — show customers they are taking safety precautions to limit the spread of the virus, the more likely people will support them.
And while she expects travel to continue to stay low through the holiday season, Utah’s access to national parks and ski resorts could give potential travelers an incentive to come here over other states.
“We've all experienced that there is more hunger than ever for Utah's outdoor recreation, that Mother Nature played favorites here,” Varela said. “So that will play to our advantage.”
Varela said the tourism economy still has a long long road to recovery ahead, dependent on an effective vaccine and people following public health guidelines.