Planes keep flying even as pandemic flattens air travel in Quincy

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 10, 2020 12:01 am

QUINCY — Enplanements at Quincy Regional Airport are slowly on the upswing after bottoming out in April, when just 72 people flew from the airport.

Despite the plummeting numbers, daily flights have occurred from Quincy to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and Lambert International Airport in St. Louis.

"As always, the passengers we are seeing per plane has varied," said Airport Director Sandy Shore. "We have seen some full planes and some empty planes and some partially-filled planes."

While other airlines and airports grounded flights, Cape Air's new Tecnam P2012 Travellers have continued to fly from Quincy Regional Airport.

"The Department of Transportation did allow for Essential Air Service airlines to limit their schedules and to reduce operations based on the ongoing pandemic, but after meeting with Cape Air we both agreed that we were going to continue to have our full schedule, whether the demand was there or not. We felt it was important (to have the full schedule) in order to continue to support the economic impact that airport has on the surrounding communities. We wanted to keep as many people employed as we can, propping up those other businesses that rely on our service as best we could," Shore said.

Year-to-date passenger enplanements at Quincy's airport reached 2,119 as of June 2020, the most recent numbers available. That's a 51% drop from the 4,357 passenger enplanements as of June 2019.

Since mid-March, the airport has seen the number of passengers plummet with 53% fewer passengers flying in March, 90% fewer passengers in April, 84% fewer passengers in May, and 66% fewer passengers in June.

"I don't want anyone to worry," Shore said. "The airport is going to be OK. We are going to be OK. The airline is going to be OK. We are going to get through this," she said after Wednesday's meeting of the city's aeronautics committee.

COVID-19 has dramatically dampened air travel across the country, not just in Quincy. Typically in April and May, about 2.4 million people travel by air each day. For the week that ended April 17, 2020, the count was only 95,161 per day.

For the week ended May 17, the count was 212,580 per day.

Officials acknowledged that the local raw numbers were dismal.

In May 2019, more than 970 passengers flew from the airport. This year, 160 passengers have done so.

In June 2019, 902 passengers boarded flights at the airport. This year, 305 passengers did so.

Despite the dismal numbers, there was one bright spot -- the St. Louis route. When the route was announced last year, airport officials and city leaders publicly and privately voiced concerns that the route would founder and fail to gain enough passengers to compete with the Chicago route.

At the time of its announcement, Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore said it was up to Quincy area residents and users of the airport to vote with their pocketbooks.

According to Shore's report to the committee, the St. Louis route outperformed the Chicago route in both May and June, when collectively 61 more passengers flew on that route compared to Chicago.

"It competed well in the beginning, and it has obviously outperformed the Chicago route now. I think it is an essential route for passengers who are traveling right now. We are glad that we have that route to offer to those who absolutely need to travel and need to go through St. Louis and on domestically," Shore said.

Based on the year-to-date figures, the Chicago route remains slightly more popular for Quincy travelers with 1,142 passengers flying to O'Hare and 1,005 passengers flying to Lambert.

Shore said while she hopes passenger counts will continue to increase in the future, she wants the public to be mindful of the public health crisis.

"I still want passengers to think about their safety and the public health recommendations when they fly and really consider their options when they fly. We want the passengers to really think about their safety and the safety of others before they fly," Shore said. Both the airport and the airline are requiring all passengers to wear masks in the terminal, going through security, and while on the plane. Masks are being provided to passengers who arrive at the airport without one.

"The mask requirements and the (enhanced) cleanings are not going to end anytime soon," Shore said.