The Idaho Falls Regional Airport saw a 93% decrease in passenger levels due to the pandemic. That number was calculated by comparing March and April numbers in 2019 to those same months in 2020. In 2019, the airport saw more than 29,000 departing passengers. This April, only 1,300 passengers departed the airport.
Last year had the highest passenger count in the airport’s history with 352,093. With January and February of 2020 seeing 10% more passengers than the year before, airport officials believed they were on track for another record-breaking year until the coronavirus hit.
Revenue is down approximately 90%, said IDA Director Rick Cloutier. As a result, the airport has been forced to make adjustments to services and its budget. Employees have seen hour cuts. Not all open positions were able to be refilled with new hires. Federal CARES Act funding will help defray some of the financial losses, but Cloutier said even with cuts, the money will last six months at most. Cloutier anticipates layoffs happening “pretty quickly.”
The airport has now initiated new measures to ensure the “health and safety of passengers and travelers.”
Only passengers with tickets or rental car customers are allowed into the airport. Staff is required to wear masks, and airport officials are asking all travelers to also wear masks inside the airport. All passengers must wear masks when boarding planes as per airline guidelines. Safety kits containing masks will be handed out to passengers. Visitors dropping off or picking up passengers must remain in short- or long-term parking. Curbside parking is no longer allowed.
Airport officials are arranging for plexiglass barriers to be installed at all airlines and rental car counters. Cloth seating and middle benches have been either removed or closed off. The airport's restaurant has been closed indefinitely. Airport staff will be regularly cleaning “commonly touched rails and surfaces.” Hand sanitizer stations and safety instruction signs have been installed throughout the airport.
Cloutier said many airlines are changing procedures to allow for social distancing during boarding. Some are not selling middle seats and staggering seating. According to a city press release, “each aircraft is also being sanitized by special electrostatic machines that clean and sanitize the interior of the aircraft after each flight.”
New non-stop flight routes to San Diego and Minneapolis have been postponed.
The airport’s terminal expansion plans will now be completely funded by the federal CARES Act. The expansion will add three gates and enlarge the security screening and gate areas by 30,000 square feet. Construction is expected to start in June.
“We are confident that once these restrictions are lifted as we achieve more immunity or find a vaccine, we will see those numbers start to return to previous levels, so we want to be ready,” said Cloutier. “It will take time for that to happen, and travel will definitely look different from what it was in the past, but we want to be prepared to meet those new demands and requirements, whatever they may be.”