BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL)- Hopping on a plane may be the last thing you want to do during a global pandemic. But the Tri-Cities Airport is still seeing 50 to 60 passengers fly with them each day.
“Normally when we’re at full capacity, we’re probably seeing about 1,500 passengers a day,” said Gene Cossey, the airport’s executive director.
Cossey said the amount of passengers per day is slowly but steadily rising again. He estimates the airport has seen a 90% decrease in flyers because of COVID-19. American Airlines and Delta still run three to four flights a day each.
“A lot of those flights are empty, a lot of them are just carrying cargo. Or a lot of them are just carrying three to four passengers,” Cossey said.
If you’re a flyer, there are perks to not sharing a plane with many other passengers.
“There was maybe six [passengers] at the most,” said Rebecca Silva, who flew into the Tri-Cities airport on Friday. “It was less claustrophobic. I felt better about it. It was my first time really flying through an airport.”
The low flight prices don’t hurt the experience either.
“I got a round-trip from here to Sacramento and back for a very reasonable price,” said Jim McDowell, another passenger.
Cossey says the airport is now offering deferments on some fees for its airlines. They hope to get this money back toward the end of the year.
In the meantime the Tri-Cities Airport is slated to receive a $10.3 million grant through the CARES Act Program to help make up for revenue loss. Cossey anticipates the airport will receive it in the next week.
“Through the FAA and TSA and all the other regulations we have to follow, we’re still required to be fully-staffed and keep the airport functioning on an everyday basis,” Cossey said. “If we can use this [grant] to supplement our losses through the next four years that will be wonderful.”
The Tri-Cities Airport has not laid off any employees because of the pandemic, but Cossey said some separate vendors within the airport have. He’s optimistic their former full roster of flights will return, and so will more passengers.
“I do believe we’ll be seeing increases in the next six months and be probably 50-75% of what we would expect,” he said.