SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) - Thousands of airline employees are getting furloughed while the companies wait to see if they will get more money from taxpayers.
The decision all depends on whether Congress and the White House can agree on a COVID-19 relief package.
Business has dropped so much in some parts of the country that American Airlines is now pausing service to 15 markets, including Lake Charles. This has caused 32,000 employees at American and United to be furloughed.
The number of passengers flying commercially is down a staggering 68 percent across the country, largely because of fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus.
This is despite stepped up cleaning procedures, newer air filtration systems and most carriers requiring passengers to wear a face mask.
Many working Americans, like Lauren Moore, don’t have a choice. They must fly as part of their job description.
“I travel for work. Four or five times a month I fly," said Moore.
Moore is a regional retail manager, who says at least from her perspective, airlines are focusing on COVID-19 safety precautions.
“Yeah, they’re going hands-free as much as they can. No contact. Obviously wear masks. Everything’s sanitized. Most flights I get on they give you your own personal sanitizing wipes. Like wipe your seat down if you want, extra, your hands," said Moore.
Moore and others have seen a noticeable drop in social distancing for airline seating, with only a few carriers like Delta and Southwest Airlines, still blocking out seats to guarantee more distance.
This is especially helpful to travelers like Kenzie Spoelstra, who was visiting the Shreveport Regional Airport on Thursday.
“I personally, I have an autoimmune disease and so I do worry,” said Spoelstra.
In Spoelstra’s case, she says flying from her home in Arkansas to her hometown in Nevada isn’t really a choice.
She says that is because the alternative is a 28 hour drive, with many of the same risks.
“In my mind, yeah, you interact with a lot of people. But, it’s safer than travelling. That’s a long distance to drive and that’s even more people interacted," Spoelstra.
When Spoelstra flew last month to Montana, she noticed a lot of safety precautions in place.
“Everyone wore masks. Everyone was socially distanced on the plane. They sat, you know, we had spaces between us and such, which was nice," said Spoelstra.
Now 8 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and with federal aid expiring for the time being, airline carriers and airports are trying to bring in more passengers.
“I think the biggest thing I want to get across is it is safe to travel," said Sandra McQuain, the executive director of the Alexandria England International Airport, better known by some as AEX.
She points to programs like ‘Fly Safe Louisiana’ for trying to keep travelers up to date on the latest steps being taken at airports and with airlines in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
McQuain credits that information campaign for helping most of Louisiana’s seven commercial airports stay well below the national drop of 68 percent in the number of people flying this year compared to 2019.
“Alexandria, we’re only down about 35 percent; still down but it could be worse. Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Lafayette, Monroe, you’re all, they’re all down about 47 to 50 percent," said McQuain.
As for exactly why Louisiana airports seem somewhat insulated from the drop in passengers, experts credit two factors in particular: in-state business trips and travel by military personnel.