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Planes departing SLO Airport now 75 percent full after massive drop-off in April

Posted at 9:19 AM, Jul 01, 2020

Traffic at the San Luis Obispo Regional Airport is starting to increase after air travel plummeted in April due to COVID-19.

Airport Dir. Kevin Bumen said Tuesday that about 300 passengers were departing the airport each day in June. That's a significant increase from April, when only about 1,300 people were boarding outbound flights.

"We're averaging about a 74 percent load on those flights so we're seeing seats filled significantly," Bumen said.

While the number of passengers has been steadily increasing, the number of flights offered at the SLO Airport remain limited.

That means people flying the friendly skies should expect their plane to be mostly full.

In bigger cities across the country, passengers on packed jumbo jets have spoken out about the risk of COVID-19 on full flights.

Until now, many airlines had kept the middle seat open to promote social distancing.

"Whatever the distance is from shoulder to shoulder when the middle seat is open, we know that that is better than being right next to someone shoulder to shoulder," Delta Airlines Chief Customer Service Officer Bill Lentsch said.

American Airlines, among others, are now booking that center seat.

At the San Luis Obispo Airport, keeping a middle seat open isn't an option.

"Our aircraft don't have center seats here, we have all two-by-two seating," Bumen said.

Masks are required at the airport and must be worn in the terminals and on the plane.

Bumen said business travel is still down but commercial travel has been taking off.

The rebound in passenger travel is a sign of optimism for Bumen, who watched airport activity tank from March through May.

"When you look at commercial aviation for 100 years, it's never experienced an event like this," Bumen said. "Even when you look at 911 or the recession. So the system is certainly in shock at the moment. I'm optimistic, people are going to need and desire to move around, that's just the nature of the world we live in."

Bumen said airlines are typically planning for their winter schedule at this time but due to the pandemic, their outlook is limited to about two weeks ahead, meaning the end of the year flight options are still largely uncertain.

The direct flight from SLO to San Diego was suspended and the direct flight to Portland that was set to launch in June was postponed due to the pandemic. Bumen anticipates both of those flights will launch in October.

He said American Airlines is adding a second direct flight to Dallas this month.