ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Lambert International Airport is flying into uncharted territory during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, Lambert was just shy of 16 million people going in and out. Starting this year, January and February were off to a great start with a 3-5% increase in traffic.
In mid-March, those numbers took a dip.
"Normally, we would see 40,000 people a day going through the airport. Now, it's 2,500 to 3,000 a day," Airport Director Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge said
Airports have experienced chaos before during 9/11, but Hamm-Niebruegge said this hit harder.
"Unlike 9/11, which was driven out of an actual event, not a prolonged illness, you could respond and put measures in place and put confidence back," she said. This is more challenging. How do you bring consumers back to make everyone comfortable?"
In order to make passengers feel safe, new protocols are in place.
So, let's unpack what to expect when you arrive at Lambert:
- You'll see a lot of marking on the floor, very bright red and white stickers placed in baggage claim areas and TSA lines
- Columns are also wrapped with social distancing reminders
- Many of the ticket counters for the airlines will have plexiglass in front of the counter
- Some shops that are open will have plexiglass too
- You will hear paging announcements frequently reminding you what the CDC guidelines are based on washing hands and social distancing
- Walking around, you'll see more hand sanitizer dispensaries, since they've tripled the amount
When it comes to airlines, each has its own guidelines.
Most airlines now require masks, including Delta, Southwest, United, American, Alaska and Contour.
Some will even hand out some masks.
Frontier Airlines said starting June 1st, the airline will take passengers' temperature before boarding.
Despite saying middle seats will be blocked off, airlines like Spirit and United will only block off middle seats "when they can."
As stay at home orders slowly lift, Hammnie-Bruegge expects more passengers to take flight. She said the airport is prepared for whatever scenario lands on its hands.
"I don't think any of us know the expectation of when traffic levels will go up but we are planning for multiple scenarios hoping we'll see it grow back," Hammnie-Bruegge said.
The CEO of Boeing David Calhoun said it will take years for airlines to come back from this pandemic.
"As long as we can demonstrate the safety of our industry, the safety of our airplane experience, we believe we will return to a growth rate similar to the past, but it might take us three, five years to get there," Calhoun said.
Hammnie-Bruegge adds they are working with a task force on a national basis, in order to have every airport be on a consistent level, so every one can have the same procedures.
If you decide to take flight, Hammnie-Bruegge asked passenger to pack some patience and research what the requirements are for your specific airline just to know what those expectations are.