Less crowded these days, Las Vegas airport adjusts to new normal

While waiting for her luggage at McCarran International Airport, Christina Esposito of San Diego said she was concerned about traveling in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We were worried about the virus, but that didn’t stop us from traveling,” Esposito said.

Esposito, like nearly everyone at the airport the afternoon of July 2, was wearing a protective face mask.

Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a directive June 24 making face coverings mandatory in public places.

“We’ve been messaging out since the start of the pandemic that people are strongly encouraged to wear a mask when they come in,” said Joe Rajchel, an airport spokesman.

“With the governor’s recent mandate to wear masks, we’ve continued to reinforce that message. For the most part, people are wearing them,” Rajchel said. “We want to make sure that people coming through the airport are safe and healthy.”

Coming off a record year for passenger traffic in 2019, the airport won’t finish this year anywhere near the 51.5 million passengers reported last year.

Since the nationwide onset of the pandemic in February and March, air travel has plummeted.

In May, McCarran recorded just under 392,000 arriving and departing passengers. That’s a 91% decrease from May 2019, when about 4.6 million travelers passed through the airport.

During the first five months of this year, las vegas airport welcomed 10.6 million arriving and departing passengers, roughly half of the number it reported for the same period in 2019.

Goldie De La Rosa of San Antonio, Texas, was among the passengers at McCarran on July 2. In addition to a face mask, she was wearing a full protective face shield.

“It’s more of a comfort thing for me,” De La Rosa said, slipping the mask down to talk while keeping the shield in place. “I can breathe better with this.”

De La Rosa had plans to be in Las Vegas for a summer bowling tournament, which was canceled. But she and some friends decided to keep their travel plans anyway.

“Four or five people backed out of the trip, but we wanted to still do it,” De La Rosa said. “With the virus, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. I was at a casino recently in Louisiana and they had all the proper safety measures. I’m sure it’s the same here.”

While it’s unknown how long it will take for air travel numbers to return to 2019 levels, recent statistics released by airport officials are encouraging.

For July, flight arrivals are expected to exceed 280 a day. At the lowest point during the pandemic, that number dipped to 110.

By August, officials hope to see more than 330 daily arrivals.

“The significant investment in increased scheduling shows the confidence our airline partners have in travelers’ demand to return to our incredible destination,” Rosemary Vassiliadis, Clark County director of aviation, said in a statement.

There is concern, however, that recent spikes in positive COVID-19 cases in Nevada — on Monday, the state’s cumulative positive test rate was 7.39%, marking the 19th consecutive daily increase — could affect traveler safety confidence.

“We’ve seen during the summer months that airlines are increasing the number of scheduled flights coming into Vegas. That can only continue as long as everyone’s being safe and healthy,” Rajchel said.

“Doing things like wearing a mask, trying to social distance when possible, washing your hands, using hand sanitizer — those things are important,” he said.

The airport has “doubled down” on its cleaning regimen, especially for high-touch areas like ticket counters, kiosks and escalator rails, Rajchel said.

Some airport employees have been moved from other departments to help with cleaning.

“We’re doing our part to help keep everything clean and safe,” Rajchel said. “We need people to continue to take personal responsibility to help in that effort.”

In Terminal 1, signs abound with messages reminding people not to let their guard down: “Bet against the spread” or “Always split aces — maintain social distance.”

There are eight vending machines at the airport that sell personal protective equipment — things like masks and small containers of hand sanitizer.

McCarran officials have also asked people picking up passengers to remain outside the airport to limit crowds inside.

Airlines, which operate independent of the airport, have their own coronavirus safety protocols. Most airlines now require passengers to wear a face covering to board a plane.

Frontier Airlines is among those that also screen passenger temperatures.

“We’ve seen an overwhelmingly positive reaction to our health initiatives,” said Zach Kramer, a spokesman for Frontier. “We are taking every measure to help customers travel comfortably and safely.”

Rajchel said there are no plans to implement temperature checks for people entering the airport.

Some airlines are also limiting the number of passengers on planes.

Delta Air Lines isn’t selling middle seats and is capping seating capacity at 60% in the main cabin and 50% in its first class section.

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