In March, the U.S. State Department issued an advisory to recommend that Americans avoid international travel and states begin to implement quarantine requirements for arriving travelers. With demand plummeting, airlines cut the number of flights they operated each day, and a 42-month streak of passenger traffic growth ended at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

However, since April, the passenger numbers have slowly trended upward. September’s total passenger count was over 417,000, down 70.5% compared to 2019, but up nearly tenfold from April. The holiday travel season could bring in the most passengers since the pandemic began.

“We have seen an increase in passenger traffic each month, and as the holidays are approaching, we’re optimistic that we’ll see increased passengers as people are more comfortable with travel,” airport spokesperson Sam Haynes said.

The airport has adjusted its protocols as a result of the pandemic. Haynes said that as passengers return this winter, they can expect things to look different.

Noticeable changes

Haynes said travelers driving into the Barbara Jordan Terminal will see that the economy long-term parking lot is closed, as the airport has suspended parking shuttle services due to COVID-19. However, parking accommodations are still available in the airport’s red and blue garages, which are currently operating at a discounted rate, she said. Both garages are a walkable distance from the terminal entrance.

Off-site parking lots not affiliated with the airport, including Park & Zoom and The Parking Spot, are also still open and do offer shuttles to the terminal with masks required.

Safety precautions include promoting social distancing, sanitation stations throughout the terminal, plexiglass at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints and mask requirements, according to Haynes.

“If you come to the airport, you do have to wear a mask, and you will notice that everyone is wearing a mask,” she said.

Not all concessions and stores are open, but 35 of the nearly 60 businesses were open as of Nov. 1, Haynes said. Some have reopened using single-use dishware and virtual or one-use menus. Plexiglass is installed at cash registers, and mobile checkout and ordering are available at some restaurants.

“You don’t have to interact with anybody. They’re doing their part to make sure that it’s comfortable and safe,” Haynes said.

At the South Terminal, which is a 10-minute drive south of the Barbara Jordan terminal and includes all Allegiant and Frontier flights, the same precautions are in place.

Jeff Pearse, the CEO of LoneStar Airport Holdings, which operates the South Terminal, said the terminal’s outdoor patio is currently open, as are the outdoor bar and food truck. Furniture has been organized to better accommodate social distancing, he said. A shuttle between both terminals is also still operating.

Do your research

While the airport is following city of Austin guidelines, others could have different measures in place. Individual airlines also have their own set of rules, Haynes said. For example, Southwest Airlines, which had been blocking off all middle seats, is set to lift that precaution Dec. 1. As of press time, Delta, Alaskan and Hawaiian are the only airlines to have open middle seats after Nov. 30.

“Plan ahead, folks. Check your airline, check the status of the flight, make sure you’re going to the right terminal,” Pearse said. “When you plan ahead, your overall airport experience is generally far better.”

Even with lower passenger traffic in 2020, Haynes said that precautions and limited staff could slow security checks.