OLYMPIA – Looking to book that post-vax summer vacay? So, it seems, is everyone else.
As more people become vaccinated and more places begin reopening, the summer travel surge is upon us.
On Friday more than 2 million people traveled through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints for the first time since March 7, 2020, according to agency numbers. It’s still less than the almost 2.7 million who traveled on the same day in 2019, but significantly more than the 544,000 people who traveled in 2020. More than 2 million people flew on Sunday .
“It’s going to be busy this summer,” Cathy Nystrom, owner of Edwards LaLone Travel Agency in Spokane, said. “If someone’s looking to go somewhere, it’s a good time to get on it.”
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport averaged 38,200 departing passengers per day last week, spokesman Perry Cooper wrote in an email. That’s down 38% from 2019, but up 262% from last year. The airport is anticipating averaging more than 42,000 departing passengers each day in the next two weeks.
Cooper said the airport is expecting to hit records “over and over again as traffic returns.”
At Spokane International Airport, monthly passenger numbers aren’t reported until two months later, spokesman Todd Woodard said. The most recent numbers from March show travel was up from March 2020 but still hadn’t reached March 2019 numbers. This March, 213,543 passengers flew in and out of Spokane. In 2020, traffic was only partially affected by the pandemic, as Washington’s lockdown order wasn’t issued until March 23, but it still was sluggish at 174,741. In March 2019, passenger totals stood at 332,082.
Omar Jones, 19, was not a flyer even before the pandemic. While awaiting his ride from the Spokane International Airport on Monday, Jones said he did not pay much notice to the masks or the fuller plane – he was more nervous to fly by himself for the first time.
“It was kind of weird sitting next to someone, but I didn’t really think about it too much,” Jones said. “I had no problems. The turbulence is what bothers me.”
Flying from Seattle on Delta Airlines, Jones said he felt the airline and the passengers handled the heavier foot traffic easily.
Although things are opening, travel isn’t quite back to normal. Even countries that are reopening have strict testing or quarantine requirements. Masks are still required most places. Some countries are open, but not to American tourists.
The key to an easy international travel experience? A vaccine, Nystrom said.
“We’re seeing that it’s helpful to make your travel experience open up,” she said.
Alysse Whatley said she would not have felt as comfortable without the vaccine, which she got soon after she was eligible. While she wanted the wedding and honeymoon, Whatley said that was only part of the reason to get vaccinated.
“I didn’t vaccinate to travel. It was more of a public health decision. But yeah, that’s part of it, right? The more people who get the vaccine, the faster we can start traveling and being around each other,” Whatley said. “I think everyone is so excited for that, that I only noticed people being cooperative and in this ‘one-for-all’ mindset.”
Even with a vaccine, traveling in an airport right now means masks, social distancing and probably long wait times.
Whatley said she only saw excited, fully masked passengers on her flight from San Francisco.
As she waited for her bags, Whatley said “spirits were high” during the trip that connected her and her husband of only two days from their home in New Jersey to Spokane for their postpandemic honeymoon.
Married retirees Brian Furlong, 61, and Terry Esquivel, 63, got vaccinated in their hometown of Austin, Texas, in March as soon as they were eligible, Furlong said. They knew they wanted to travel often during their first year of retirement, and they had no complications with their vaccine experiences.
Furlong said he appreciated airlines continuing to enforce the mask mandate. “I mean, if you’re sitting there but not actively eating or drinking, they ask you to pull it up. They’re still strict about it. And I support that. If you’re indoors, you should still wear it.”
SeaTac’s summer travel tips include giving yourself extra time before your flight as COVID-19 protocols can make moving through the airport longer than normal. Security wait lines may look longer, but wait times are not necessarily longer, according to their site. The airport recommends arriving two to three hours ahead of your flight.
At Spokane International Airport, Woodard said he recommends travelers arrive at least 90 minutes before their flight time, although many airlines recommend arriving two hours ahead of time.
Nystrom encouraged travelers to research their destination and restrictions before leaving.
“If you show up unprepared, you’re not going,” she said. “They won’t put you on the plane.”
Travel restrictions for other countries change quickly, Nystrom said. It’s why many people are opting to road trip within the U.S. instead.
All but five states are currently open, according to the New York Times, with many completely open or will be within the next few weeks.
In the past year and a half, Nystrom said much of her job was booking, canceling and rebooking trips for people. With so much uncertainty, plans changed constantly, she said.
“We did a lot of dreaming with people during the pandemic,” she said. But that’s starting to change as more and more people book trips for 2021.
“Things are starting to feel a lot more normal every day,” Nystrom said. “We’re working hard to put this pandemic behind us.”
Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.
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