Houston airports suffering amid less holiday travel and COVID-19

HOUSTON – Holiday weekend travel at George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport is down dramatically from past years. However, the data shows a silver lining.

“This is going to be our peak of number of passengers since April,” said Houston Airport System spokesperson Augusto Bernal.

Before the pandemic, the TSA passenger numbers routinely were near 2.3 million passengers per day nationally. However, TSA data shows only 87,000 passengers traveled by plane on April 14.

Since that low point, air travel has slowly increased. The daily nationwide passenger totals have eclipsed 900,000 roughly 20 times. The total daily number of passengers has only surpassed over 1 million passengers three times.

With COVID-19 soaring across the country, many seats remain empty. As do parking spaces at local airports.

As of this morning, the airport system showed 60% of parking available at both major airports. Those numbers are also reflective of a bigger struggle inside the airports.

“Unfortunately a lot has been shut down, a lot has been closed,” said Rob Wigington, the Executive Director of Airport Restaurant and Retail Association.

The association represents concessionaires at airports nationwide. Bernal says that at Bush nearly 27% of operators have shut down completely. Across town, 35% have closed up shop at Hobby.

There also has been a mass reduction of hours at various retail and food outlets that reflects current flight schedules. Wiginton says all of it impacts the bottom line for an industry with a tremendous financial punch.

“The economic activity that comes out of an airport and the business that operates within that airport, the jobs the local tax revenues for the city, the county, the state is enormous,” Wigington said.

He believes travel activity will improve after a vaccine is approved, adding that the demand is there.

“People want to travel,” he said. “You see a lot of pent up demand. A lot of surveys have been done show people really want to travel as soon as they feel confident it’s really going to be safe for them.”


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