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Getting back in the air: the future of commercial flying in Alaska

(KTUU)
Published: Jun. 9, 2020 at 6:20 PM AKDT
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Once coronavirus started to change life as we know it, flying on an airplane went from something travelers looked forward to to a major health risk. The result for airlines of course was an incredible drop in ticket sales and flights offered.

At Alaska Airlines, Marilyn Romano is the Alaska Regional Vice President for the company. She said that no one at the airline has seen such a drastic change in aviation since 9/11. She said she thinks COVID-19 might even top that horrific event.

"It was terrible, it was tragic, it was frightening," she said about that day, "but the airlines themselves were only down for four days."

The airline of course has been adjusting for COVID for much longer than that.

Romano said Alaska Airlines was doing very well at the beginning of the year as far as ticket sales go. She said they started off with numbers that would have put about 130,000 people in the air per day going into March.

In April, she said they were down to only about 5,000 people.

"No one in their life, not even just at Alaska Airlines, but in their career have people seen something like this," she said.

Aside from numbers, the process of flying has changed tremendously.

Alaska Airlines alongside several other major providers in Alaska have required masks on board flights, are vastly limiting in air services, and have had to cut back on the number of planes they've put in the air for the lowered demand.

Channel 2 reporters spoke to several travelers arriving in Alaska in early June about their experience.

Overall, passengers were struck by how barely anyone was in the airports their journey started at. However, when it came to the policy changes like wearing masks, nearly everyone we talked to said they didn't think it was a strange experience. The reason being that they all got used to seeing people in masks in recent months so they felt they were used to it.

In Alaska, it's common knowledge that flying is essential to many activities. Romano said they cater to school athletic trips, medical transportation, and obviously tourists. However, it's uncertain when the amount of flying will start to return to normal.

Romano said how the airline recovers in the future will depend greatly on what happens next year.

She said the discussion around the question of recovery usually ends with a vaccine in the commercial air travel world. Even then the next travel season is predicted to be less busy.

Romano said the airline expects next summers travel numbers are going to be down by 20%.

Even once more people start traveling again, she said they are still figuring out how long the policy changes like masks will be in affect. If coronavirus has proven anything, it's that things can change on a day by day basis.

"I think some of these things that we're doing are really smart and we'll continue to do them into the long term. Some we may assess and change," she said.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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