OIA rebounds from pandemic’s slowest day
From the pandemic’s slowest day to crowded ticket counters before dawn
A year ago on April 15, only 1,579 travelers went through the checkpoints. Now, ticket counters are crowded before dawn.
The pandemic plunge at Orlando’s airport hit bottom on April 15, 2020, with the number of travelers at security checkpoints that entire day fewer than during 30 minutes of an average day prior to COVID.
Speaking to the Orlando Sentinel’s Kevin Spear, senior operations director Tom Draper described that day, the pace of recovery, prospects for summer and transatlantic flights and why it’s so busy before dawn at Florida’s busiest airport: Orlando International Airport.
Q: Do you remember April 15 last year? A: I was here. 1,579 people went through the checkpoint that day. It was very quiet. The fountain was off and there was almost nobody in the checkpoints. Q: That dropped from a daily average of 68,000. Describe some highs and lows since.
A: Even though there were only that many people here, everybody here was still focused on the operation, and on safety and security. The customer service couldn’t have been finer because of employees outnumbering customers. But everybody has reduced staff. We’ve tried to support the concessions and their families. The airport is a community in itself.
Q: What’s anticipated for summer travel? A: We think it will be just like spring break. We are hearing that from all of the airlines. We had a great spring break [Feb. 28 — April 14]. For 2021 versus ’20, we are up 68%. For 2021 versus 2019, which is really what we are looking at, were only down 30%. I think you are going to continue to see that for the summer. I think more people are going to come down here for leisure and to see families because more and more people are being vaccinated.
Q: Was spring break better than expected?
A: Yes. We projected 1.9 million travelers and we wound up with 2.2 million. There was a lot of shifting of flights by airlines, and adding flights at the last minute to accommodate activity.
Q: You projected a daily average of more than 43,000 this year. What’s the actual?
Q: When will Europe flights resume?
A: The [airline] operators have articles in the news that they are willing to promote vaccinations and testing. But we don’t know what European governments are going to do. We are pulling all the news articles and researching media, and we are also talking with airlines, and they don’t know yet either. Most of them are talking about trying to go the first week of June but we still haven’t heard.
Q: What European carriers will serve Orlando?
A: The big three that fly here, Virgin, British Airways and Lufthansa. Aer Lingus has gotten some of the [Norwegian] routes from Manchester and they are going to fly here from Manchester.
Q: What about your West Coast routes? It’s mid-morning and there aren’t many on the departure boards.
A: Most of those go out early in the morning and later in the day, but not during the middle. You have to remember that at least 30% of passengers go through the security checkpoints by 9 in the morning. We operate 93 gates and we have 93 aircraft on the gates every night to go out first thing in the morning.
There is another group of aircraft parked out on the north ramp or somewhere else remotely that they tow in to send out another group. So our morning bank of flights is pretty significant.
Q: And I’m still waking up then.
A: The ticket counters open at 3:30 in the morning and if you come out here then all of the queues are full and it’s the busiest time of the day.