Passengers Begin to Return to Meadows Field, but will the Recovery Survive the Newest COVID-19 Surge?

Nov. 23, 2020

Nov. 22—It has been a turbulent year for Meadows Field Airport, filled with enough ups and downs to make anyone reach for the vomit bag.

Boosted by a second nonstop flight to Dallas, business was booming at the beginning of the year. Then, the coronavirus pandemic reduced passenger counts by about 90 percent.

However, over the last few months, travelers have slowly but surely returned. The airport was preparing to push for people to use its services over the upcoming holiday period, but with a surge in COVID-19 cases, even that plan has flown out the window.

"I had actually planned television-type deals as to what to do to travel during the holidays," said Airports Director Mark Witsoe. "I don't think it's appropriate for me to be a salesman on one end, when most everyone on the other end is saying, 'stay home.'"

Due to significant increases in coronavirus transmission across the country, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington have issued travel advisories urging those returning home from elsewhere to quarantine for 14 days. The state is urging residents to stay within their counties — to stay at home, really — and not drive more than two or three hours away.

With more than 1 million cases in the state, and 18,557 deaths reported as of Friday, state officials are hoping California residents will reduce the recent surge in cases by staying within their geographic area.

Although the state has not issued a formal travel restriction, all nonessential out-of-state travel is discouraged.

The new recommendations put a damper on what has been a steady recovery for Meadows Field. Unlike some large airports, passengers have begun to stream through its security checkpoints.

In October, 8,299 travelers used Meadows Field, compared to 12,176 during the same month last year. That's a 68 percent retention rate. Compared to places such as Los Angeles International Airport, which only saw about a quarter of its normal passenger count in September (the most recent month available), Meadows Field is doing great.

In fact, the airport claims it has been leading the state in passenger retention since July.

"It certainly speaks to the resiliency of our regular traveler, that they still had a place to go and things to do and people to see," Witsoe said. "And certainly, we've done our best to provide a fantastically clean terminal building."

Masks are a strict requirement at Meadows Field, and the airport's terminal allows for the kind of social distancing not possible in large airports.

Witsoe added the airport had not been notified that any significant coronavirus issue had originated at Meadows Field. He said one or two employees have contracted the virus, but it hasn't spread among the staff.

"I do really appreciate the public service commitment that we have on our team," he said. "I'm not the instrument player, I'm just the conductor of our little band, and it has been the day in and day out service of our employee group to keep all the airports open and safe."

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.

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