San Jose, CA

The San Jose airport is dealing with a decrease in passengers

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The aviation industry is having a harder time emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic than the rest of Silicon Valley.

In early April of this year, the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport saw a 53 percent decline in passengers relative to before the pandemic. During the same time frame, passengers at nearby San Francisco International Airport dropped by 60%, the largest decline of any airport in the world. Both San Jose and San Francisco rank in the top five airports in terms of passenger reductions.

The reduction in passengers in San Jose is almost double the national average, at about 28%. Officials familiar with the airport's inner workings, though, claim it has "weathered the storm."

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, domestic passenger travel in the United States was down 59 percent in 2020 relative to pre-pandemic peaks, and international passenger traffic was down 74 percent.

Air traffic at Mineta San Jose International Airport dropped from a high of 15.6 million passengers in 2019 to a low of 4.7 million in 2020, according to Caltrans reports. The airport is seeing an increase in interstate and neighboring state traffic, such as flights to Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas, despite the fact that it is already early in the year.

“Santa Clara County responded very rapidly to the pandemic,” said Scott Miller, a professor at San Jose State University's Department of Aviation and Technology. “That played a big role in the drop in travel, particularly in San Jose.”

SJC didn't get it all bad. In 2020 and 2021, Alaska Airlines, the city's second-largest carrier, will add services from Palm Springs, Missoula, Montana, Redmond, Oregon, Spokane, Washington, and Jackson, Wyoming. Volaris, a Mexican carrier, added a flight to Mexico City earlier this year.

“We found that even at the height of the pandemic, what we've done—forcing masks, minimizing interaction with visitors by stopping food and beverage service—passengers have a very slim risk of becoming COVID,” said Franco Finn, Alaska Airlines spokesperson. Flights on the airline are up to 80% of pre-pandemic speeds, according to Finn.

“We were wasting a lot of money,” he admitted.

In addition to the state's COVID laws, Finn said there has been a massive rise in flights to Hawaii due to its perennial popularity as a holiday destination. Passengers traveling to Hawaii must show proof of a negative COVID test three days prior to departure, with less strict rules in place until they arrive.

The increase in travel to and from San Jose could help the region's tech industry, which previously relied on business travel to Silicon Valley and other tech hubs around the globe, such as Portland and Seattle. Despite the lack of regular business flights into the city, tech had a banner year.

“(The pandemic) hasn't been the economic shock that all of us anticipated,” Hancock said.

Because of the reduced foot traffic, airport authorities had to think beyond the box. An show showcasing local artists was on display at San Jose International Airport, though some aspects of it sparked debate. Additionally, the transit center also announced increased parking.

Last July, the airport took one of the most unusual steps by creating three original songs to urge travelers to obey social distancing rules, wear masks, and wash their hands. The songs are played constantly on the airport's public address system. A cheerful walkthrough of the facility's COVID protocols was included in another video released the same month.

“So far, we've refrained from encouraging people to fly or take a flight, instead presenting SJC as a fantastic choice for those who do,” said Keonnis Taylor, airport spokesperson.

Even as the aviation market begins to loosen up, Taylor said the majority of the airport's COVID modifications will remain in place in the immediate future. To sanitize handrails and new custodial facilities, the airport installed ultraviolet-C lighting on all escalators. At checkpoints, officials only launched new bins with antimicrobial technologies last week. She said that air travel is making a comeback.

Taylor said, "We are optimistic that the Silicon Valley travel demand remains solid." “We recognize that the drop in traffic is due to the pandemic, and we completely expect passengers to return to the sky until it is safe to do so.”


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