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Direct flights from SLO to LA and San Diego suspended, Portland flight postponed due to coronavirus

Posted at 7:50 AM, Apr 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-24 11:56:40-04

Amid a massive drop off in ridership, the direct flights from San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport to San Diego and Los Angeles have been suspended and the June launch for the direct flight to Portland has been postponed.

SLO County Dir. of Airports Kevin Bumen said the San Diego flights will likely resume around June, while the direct flight to Portland, which had been scheduled to start in June, likely won't launch until October or later.

"We suspended the San Diego service entirely," Bumen said. "That was a very new flight. When all this occurred, it had only been flying just over two months."

The airport saw a record number of travelers in December, with more than 50,000 people passing through. By March, that figure was about 25,000 passengers and it's sure to decline even further for the month of April.

Bumen said ridership is currently about 5 percent of usual so the airport is only operating about six daily flights, which are subject to being canceled if too few passengers book a seat.

The few passengers who arrived at the airport Friday morning were greeted with a voice over the loud speaker advising personal hygiene.

"Wash your hands often with soap and water," the voice said over the speaker. "We will get through this together."

Across the county, the spread of coronavirus keeping would-be travelers at home.

"We're seeing between 50 and 100 passengers per day departing, anywhere from one to as many as 15 on a flight," Bumen said.

Empty terminals mean open skies for David Coleman, a Cayucos man who flies his own private plane.

He returned Wednesday from a trip to his property in Palm Springs, which is now a much more streamlined trip due to decreased air traffic.

"We came through at an altitude that we never come through at," Coleman said. "It's vacant, no one else is up there."

As the operator of a small private plane, air traffic controllers often force Coleman to navigate around commercial flights.

"They're (usually) flying us all over the place to get us out of the way," Coleman said. "Now we're the only show they've got."

Despite the drop off in air travel, Bumen is optimistic SLO's former menu of service destinations will one day return thanks to a provision in the congressional funding package approved for airlines.

"There's requirements in there for them to maintain their network to the standard they had in March," Bumen said. "So markets like ours benefit to a degree because the airlines can't abandon anything without approval from the Department of Transportation and we, as airports, get a say in that."

In the meantime, Bumen said no staff has been laid off as a result of the pandemic. Instead, the crew has been working on airport upgrades that would be more difficult with high traffic, such as re-striping of the parking lots.