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Airport passenger numbers show travel during COVID-19 pandemic slow to take off

The McGhee-Tyson reported 50% - 60% fewer monthly passengers compared to last year's record-breaking year.

At McGhee-Tyson airport, the flights may be leaving on time, but the number of passengers is way behind schedule.

After 2.5 million people flew through Knoxville's airport in record-shattering 2019, the coronavirus pandemic has grounded expectations for 2020. 

In April, only 8,683 people flew through TY, compared to 193,000 in April 2019.

"We have seen a significant decrease in the number of passengers who travel through the airport," said spokesperson Becky Huckaby. "It's hard to predict at this point where we will be by the end of the year." 

Even as leisure travel increases, the airport is still seeing a 50% - 60% drop in passenger volume, Huckaby said. 

Routes to Minneapolis and New York's LaGuardia Airport still have not returned. Several states, as well as the District of Columbia, have asked Tennessee travelers to quarantine for two weeks when their plane lands.

This summer, two airlines serving Knoxville filed WARN notices with the state about laying-off 215 local workers. 

RELATED: "There was no warning" Six people injured when flight heading to Knoxville hit "heavy turbulence"

The planes that still fly are also smaller. 

"We’ve seen a change in the gauge of the aircraft that serve our market because we were growing so readily prior to this," Huckaby said. "We were seeing larger aircraft to serve our market to accommodate that growth. Since the downturn associated with the pandemic, we’re seeing more regional jets serving our airport." 

Inside the terminal, there are other pandemic modifications: masks, social distancing rules and more frequent cleaning. 

The pandemic passengers still packing bags may be among the few flyers for half a decade to come. 

"The industry is indicating that it could be 2024 or 2025 before we get back to 2019 passenger loads," Huckaby said.