Looking for a safe place away from the coronavirus? Then get on a plane, no matter where it is going.
That was the underlying message from United Airlines and the Rhode Island Airport Corp. on the morning of Oct. 29 as they walked news reporters through the boarding process, had them empty their pockets, take off their shoes and get scanned by the TSA to witness the electrostatic spraying of the boarding area and the aircraft.
A United spokesman out of Houston who was present for the press briefing said that according to recently released report from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the chance of contracting COVID-19 while aboard an airplane is .003 percent.
“It’s safe to travel,” he assured.
The report, which emphasizes the importance of mask wearing in the terminal and on flights, concludes that “the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission on an aircraft is reduced to very low levels through the combination of layered infection control measures.”
It goes on to say: “Though a formidable adversary, SARS-CoV-2 need not overwhelm society’s capacity to adapt and progress. It is possible to gain a measure of control and to develop strategies that mitigate spread of the disease while allowing a careful reopening of sectors of society. There is much to gain by simply following the science. It offers a bounty of information about how people can achieve both safety and opportunity.”
Both the United representative and John Goodman, vice president of marketing and communications for RIAC, said air travel has picked up over the past month, reaching a high point in mid-October.
Goodman said that for the week ending Oct. 18, the TSA reported a nationwide count of one million passengers “for the first time since the start of the pandemic.”
Green, like airports across the country, is seeing vacation and family travel but little business travel. As a consequence, traffic is greatest on Thursday, Friday and Sundays, and the airlines have adjusted accordingly.
To illustrate distancing between travelers and airline personnel, an employee of United played the role of a traveler and used a code on his cell phone to print out a luggage tag.
Lauren Moscato, general manager for United operations at Green, emphasized that all passengers must wear masks and that safety is of the utmost concern to the airline. Passengers are required to wear a mask to board an aircraft and to wear them during the flight. She explained that United uses vendors – in this case United Ground Express – to run its operations at Green. A staff of 27 works at Green.
While airports across the country have seen airlines reduce flights and eliminate routes from schedules, there are exceptions at Green. With the recent addition of flights to Fort Meyers and Tampa in Flordia, Jet Blue – which offered three flights from Green prior to the pandemic – now has five. Frontier will add five flights weekly to Miami starting Jan. 7.
With increasing numbers of COVID cases and the threat of another surge of infections, Goodman offers no answers on how long it could take for traffic to return. During a speaking appearance before the Warwick Rotary Club on Oct. 29, he pointed out that because of the uncertainty RIAC has scaled back some of the terminal improvements that would have increased amenities. He reported, however, that Wolfgang Puck and Providence Provisions and Kitchens are planning terminal restaurants.
He pointed to airport efforts to improve community relations and how RIAC sponsored a drive-in movie this summer as a benefit for Westbay Community Action. A family-oriented movie may be shown in the near future, he said.
He told the club that passenger traffic is down 75 percent because of the pandemic and that Green is averaging 30 flights a day. Comparatively, he said, Green is faring better than Boston, which he said has seen an 80 percent decline in passengers. He pointed that that Boston has lost a huge chunk of international flights.
Goodman was also sensitive to the often-heard cry that Green Airport should be paying Warwick for the lost taxes of the properties acquired for expansion. He said the FAA heavily regulates airport expenditures, and whether RIAC wants to give Warwick more money or not, it can’t do it arbitrarily. Warwick receives $500,000 for public safety services as well as a percentage of parking revenues.
“We’ve done all the expansion we need to do,” he said.
While Green does not offer any international flights at this time, Moscato said a good number of United travelers are looking to reach foreign destinations.
As Goodman told members of the Rotary Club, Green flights provide the “ability to get everyone to where they want to go.”