Lake Charles Regional Airport saw 36 percent more passengers in the first four days of April than all of April 2020, Director Heath Allen said Monday. He credits this to a steady rebound in leisure travel that should continue into the summer months as more people receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
“I’m very optimistic by June or July, we could be looking at numbers that might exceed 2019 levels,” Allen said. “Looking at how things are trending right now, it’s looking really good.”
This time last year, Louisiana’s airports were already feeling the impact of a stay-at-home order issued by Gov. John Bel Edwards to stop the virus from spreading. During an interview in late March 2020, Allen said Lake Charles Regional saw “a pretty extreme drop” in airline passengers.
An April 2 announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that travel does not pose a serious risk of COVID-19 infection for those who are fully vaccinated. Allen said he is a proponent of vaccination.
“I think it’s going to make a difference in terms of air travel,” he said.
Allen said the airport has seen a rise in passengers since the start of 2021. Traffic fell during the winter storm in February because there were no commercial flights. Airports in Houston and Dallas, which connect flights to Lake Charles, were also impacted by the freezing conditions. Despite this, Allen said the number of passengers is growing
“We’re looking at comparing it to 2019 as sort of our benchmark because 2020 was a throwaway year, in terms of comparisons,” he said. “Barring any major setbacks, we see it improving from here on out.”
While leisure travel is improving, business travel looks to recover at a slower rate because some corporations are still imposing travel restrictions, Allen said.
Allen said there is “no end in sight” anticipated for the COVID-19 safety protocols at airports. Because the airport receives federal funding, it is bound by any federal regulations, he said.
“Until it relaxes at the federal level, we still have to follow them,” Allen said. “Even if they pull some away, I see that hanging around our industry for a while.”
Allen said the airport uses a Clorox 360 system to regularly clean the entire interior.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House chief medical advisor, said Monday that the federal government will not mandate COVID-19 vaccine passports. Allen said those mandates may eventually be required for international destinations.
Repair work on the airport’s air traffic control tower, terminal building and fire station should wrap up before June, Allen said. He said these three critical facilities were damaged by Hurricanes Laura and Delta.