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The Effects of COVID-19 on San Diego’s Air Travel

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

by Jack Jarzynka

While everyone in San Diego and around the world has been affected by COVID-19, our airport has suffered more than most. As an integral part of San Diego’s economy, airport travel produces over $11 billion in economic output each year. When COVID-19 struck the United States, travel was one of the first industries affected by new regulations in an effort to mitigate the effects of the virus and to prevent it from spreading.

Passenger volumes decreased by around 95% in March when the severity of the virus was becoming more known to the general public. This sudden drop in passenger volume led to airlines canceling flights to San Diego, leaving the Airport Authority and the businesses at the airport with far less revenue than expected. The San Diego International Airport supports over 116,000 jobs at the airport and in the San Diego area. Significant decreases in aircraft operations can negatively impact aviation workers. San Diego, as a whole, is impacted by the decline in aircraft operations. Having fewer tourists and business travelers means fewer people contributing to our local economy.

Ensuring passenger safety is incredibly important to getting passengers back in the air and the Airport Authority has implemented several measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including plexiglass shields, social distancing markers, increased cleaning, and required face coverings. Plexiglass shields are installed at all points of contact with airport staff. Social distancing markers are placed on the floor to promote social distancing of 6 ft. between passengers in lines and common areas. Cleaning in high traffic areas has been increased to reduce the spread of bacteria on commonly used surfaces.

Even in these dark times, the future of the airport is improving. As of June, passenger volume is now only down by 85%, an improvement from 95% a few months prior. Airport officials expect air travel to steadily increase over the next few years, with multiple international airlines planning to travel to San Diego in the coming years. The Airport Authority also plans to continue working on the Terminal 1 expansion project, right on schedule with operations out of the expanded terminal commencing in 2024.


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