ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando International Airport would traditionally be busy during the 4th of July weekend, but air travel has been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
While traffic is starting to pick back up at MCO, there's still a 70 percent reduction of outbound flights compared to this time last year, according to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. At its lowest point in March, there were just 1,500 people flying out of Orlando International Airport per day.
GOAA CEO Phil Brown joined Justin Warmoth on "The Weekly on ClickOrlando.com" to discuss how the airport has been working to overcome these unique challenges while keeping travelers safe.
"The decision people are look at is whether to get on an aluminum tube with a bunch of folks they don't know or to get in the family car and drive an extra day or two," Brown said. "We have to be able to convince people that when they walk through the front doors of the airport, they know what to expect, where to go and that they can transact any business they have as contactless as possible."
Until volume returns to normal, the airport’s bottom line will take a big hit. By the end of this fiscal year, which ends September 30, officials project the airport will see around 27 million passengers -- a 45 to 50 percent reduction. Brown expects even fewer passengers for the next fiscal year.
"The challenge is watching the lack of activity and its impact on a number of our revenue sources," Brown said. "72 percent of our operating revenue from 2019 came from rental cars, parking and concessions, and those have been at minimal levels."
Aside from a robust cleaning regimen, airport officials have installed vending machines where travelers can purchase face masks and other personal protective equipment. However, unlike a few other large airports around the country, MCO is not conducting temperature screenings.
"The airport doesn't have the authority to take temperatures," Brown said. "In fact, we're precluded by federal regulation from spending our resources on health screenings."
Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been twenty-two TSA agents at Orlando International Airport who have tested positive for COVID-19. Brown says changes have been made to mitigate the risk of another cluster of agents getting infected.
"Clearly there were people coming through the terminal who had been exposed," Brown said. "We've had some of our maintenance personnel who have been positive, but that was a situation where somebody was infected outside the job, came to work unknowingly and spread the virus."
When asked whether he would fly given the choice, Brown said, "I would fly. I'm well past 65, so I'm at risk, but I would also be smart about it to the extent that I can get a little distance on the aircraft. I'm going to have my hand sanitizer. I'm going to wear my face mask. It may be a little bit uncomfortable, but the fact of the matter is, the virus is out there and unless you take precautions, you're at risk."
Watch “The Weekly on ClickOrlando.com” Sunday at 7:30 a.m. on News 6.