ST. LOUIS — The pandemic was a bad time for air travel.
Enclosed spaces and general proximity to other travelers all but halted air travel for many Americans. Now, St. Louisans are emerging from the grounded days of the pandemic and eager to get back to traveling again. During the week of June 6, Lambert's TSA checkpoint volume hit its highest mark since the start of the pandemic, with 105,482 passengers entering security checkpoints at the airport. That number was up from just over 60,000 during the week of Dec. 27.
Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge, Lambert's director, helped guide the airport through the pandemic and shared insight on how Lambert worked with its airline carriers during the pandemic, and the airport's strategy as air travel slowly returns to normal.
What was the airport's initial strategy to withstand the pandemic? We had two key pieces. (The first) was doing everything we could to keep the passengers safe. We focused on protocols and safety measures to reassure the traveling public that it was safe to fly. The second piece was to really focus on remaining a strong partner to our airline partners, with the hope of being able to come out of this stronger on the backside. Everything we did was in step with the airlines — making sure we discussed what we were doing with them on a weekly basis, (and ensuring) that it was an acceptable measure from their perspective, not only from the operational standpoint of the cleanliness and the protocols but from a financial standpoint. We wanted to make sure that they knew where we were cutting costs without jeopardizing passenger safety or operational safety.
What are the trends that you’re seeing in the airline industry as travel resumes? We’re clearly seeing a trend toward the leisure markets. We know that people have had a pent-up demand after not having a lot of vacations or trips in the last year. That desire for the leisure market is what's driving a good percentage of the rebound right now. In addition to the Florida markets, we've seen additional flights into Vegas; California markets; Hilton Head, South Carolina; and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. (Our airport doesn’t) have markets like Idaho or Wyoming, but those destinations are also seeing some high surges in terms of people looking at outdoor vacations.
What about business travel? I think that we'll see business travel get back close to normal next year. I talk a lot to our corporations here in the St. Louis area, and very few, if any of them, have travel bans still in place. A lot of them consider travel essential — it needs to be an important face-to-face transaction or face-to-face sales meeting. As we get through this pandemic, if more and more people get vaccinated and the numbers keep going in the right direction, I think that the need for business travel is going to come back.
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