Tom Starr, Southwest Airways’ basic supervisor at Denver Worldwide Airport, donned a surgical masks and security vest Tuesday morning. Simply after 10 a.m. he known as for the eye of the company journey managers gathered round him. He was about to steer them on a tour from the check-in counter to a Southwest gate on the airport’s Concourse C with a deal with COVID-19 security and cleansing efforts.
“My objective is to stroll you thru what vacationers will expertise,” Starr mentioned, “and assist us all construct some confidence in journey.”
Nationwide air visitors was down about 68% in late September in comparison with the identical time in 2019, in keeping with DIA officers. Through the week of Sept. 20-26, 214,459 folks handed by means of the airport’s safety traces, 53% fewer than the identical week in 2019, officers say.
However Denver’s airport is seeing extra folks than most.
“We’ve got been about 10% above the nationwide leverage by way of restoration that previous couple of months,” DIA CEO Kim Day mentioned. “Many days, we’ve been the busiest airport within the U.S.”
It’s a scenario that places would-be vacationers involved about doable publicity to the coronavirus in a tricky spot. Even with 50-60% fewer folks passing by means of the airport, DIA, which served practically 70 million passengers in 2019, could be a busy place. Any quantity of crowding at check-in counters, safety traces or aboard DIA’s prepare connecting the terminal with the concourses may scare folks off.
Hyoung Chang, The Denver PostSouthwest Airways nationwide account supervisor Jennifer Ferrante, proper, talks with company journey managers about all the security procedures Southwest Airways and Denver Worldwide Airport have put in place since COVID-19 struck throughout a tour on Tuesday, September 29, 2020.
With the important vacation journey season approaching, airways like Southwest and airport officers are going out of their technique to spotlight security procedures and new packages designed to fight the unfold of coronavirus and provides vacationers sufficient peace of thoughts to return to the skies.
On Tuesday’s tour, Starr highlighted Southwest’s use of electrostatic sprayers to use disinfectant to the check-in counter and kiosks nightly. He confirmed off one of many digital thermometers Southwest makes use of to test each worker’s temperature each day.
Dave Harvey, the airline’s vp of enterprise journey, highlighted Southwest’s efforts to assist company purchasers, together with being versatile on the subject of permitting these purchasers to managing cash already invested in unused tickets.
As soon as by means of safety and off the prepare — the airport’s domains — the tour got here a Southwest gate. There, Starr pointed to a kiosk offered by DIA loaded with sanitizing wipes. Very like consumers at a grocery retailer, passengers can take one as they board the aircraft and wipe down surfaces and touchpoints, lots of that are already wiped down between flights. Southwest can be using a system that permits solely 10 passengers to board a aircraft at a time, reducing down on traces and crowding. The airline already guarantees empty center seats on all its flights by means of not less than Nov. 30.
Lynelle Lahey, a journey and expense specialist with the SCL Well being System was on Tuesday’s tour. She was impressed by how far aside benches had been on the Southwest gate, making certain folks aren’t bunched collectively whereas they wait to board. She additionally was inspired by the 10-passenger-at-a-time boarding protocol.
“The opposite airways say they try this they usually don’t,” mentioned Lahey who has flown a handful of instances in latest months.
Hyoung Chang, The Denver PostTetyana Carlten, left, and company journey managers test the social distance indicators and ready area for boarding at a Southwest Airways gate at Denver Worldwide Airport on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020.
The factor that caught with Lahey probably the most from the tour wasn’t one thing Southwest is doing, however a brand new program DIA launched final month known as VeriFLY.
As defined as Tuesday by DIA chief working officer Chris McLaughlin, VeriFLY is a free smartphone-powered reservation system. It permits crowd-weary and high-risk passengers to ebook 15-minute blocks to undergo a devoted safety line and board a reserved prepare automobile to the concourses, making social distancing simpler at these bottlenecks within the DIA expertise. The prepare vehicles are restricted to 12 passengers.
“That’s going to be an important factor for individuals who don’t wish to journey due to these points,” Lahey mentioned.
The airport continues to be tweaking this system, however Day celebrated VerfiFLY final week.
“We’re actually thrilled about it. It’s one thing that no different airport is providing,” she mentioned. “Hopefully, it is going to get folks touring who in any other case wouldn’t.”
VeriFLY will not be the one piece of expertise DIA is eying to make airport visits simpler as the vacations strategy. Later this fall, the airport plans to start out working with Atyourgate, Day mentioned. The app that works like a localized DoorDash or UberEats, permitting flyers to order meals and different retail gadgets from concession stands within the airport and have it dropped at them at their gate, limiting interactions with different folks and including comfort.
DIA’s major terminal nonetheless is in disarray from its beleaguered and now cash-short renovation undertaking. Even with far fewer folks more likely to cross by means of the good corridor this yr in comparison with final vacation season, Day mentioned the airport is bringing again purple-shirt sporting “ambassadors” to offer vacationers instructions and assist them navigate.
“We’re going to check it over Thanksgiving,” Day mentioned. ” What we don’t wish to do is create further density that makes folks really feel unsafe.”
Hyoung Chang, The Denver PostSouthwest Airways officers lead company journey managers on a tour to emphasise of the security procedures they and Denver Worldwide Airport have put in place since COVID-19 struck to creating flying safer.
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Tuesday’s Southwest tour and DIA’s app come towards a backdrop of an airline business in free fall.
Southwest got here into the coronavirus disaster with stronger reserves than rivals and tapped into personal loans to keep away from layoffs this yr. Denver-based Frontier Airways caught offers with its pilots’ and flight attendants’ unions and now not expects to furlough any employees after saying plans to take action this summer season, a spokeswoman mentioned. However main carriers United Airways and American Airways each furloughed 1000’s of employees final week. As of early September, greater than 900 of United’s cuts had been anticipated to come back in Denver.
The cuts come as Congress struggles to succeed in a bipartisan deal on one other stimulus package deal to maintain airline employees on the job.
Vacationers possible received’t really feel the influence of these layoffs, Michael Boyd, president of Evergreen-based aviation consulting agency Boyd Group Worldwide, mentioned. The roles being reduce had been these in extra of demand. But when the air journey numbers keep as little as they’ve been this yr by means of the vacations and past, Boyd expects the airline business to undergo a significant downward restructure.
Boyd hopes would-be passengers will hearken to Frontier CEO Barry Biffle, who in August claimed flying on a aircraft was “one of many most secure issues you are able to do outdoors your own home.”
With airways now eliminating change charges and with most planes half-full at finest, air journey is much less of a problem now that it has been in years, Boyd mentioned. Add in airport cleansing protocols and packages like DIA’s VeriFLY, and Boyd is keen to argue airports are much less of an an infection danger than grocery shops.
“I used to be at a small airport in Columbus, Miss., and it was cleaner than an working room and there have been fewer sick folks,” he mentioned. “Should you’re going to go someplace and it includes an airplane, go. Simply go.”