Baton Rouge airport sees jump in holiday travel despite warnings

Local News

BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) — Concerns over the spread of COVID-19 have left many people staying home this Christmas — but not everyone.

More than 84 million Americans are expected to travel this holiday season, AAA projects. This past Friday and Saturday alone saw more than a million passengers travel by air, despite warnings that nonessential trips could fuel more coronavirus cases.

Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport (BTR) has seen its own passenger influx in recent days, according to airport spokesman Jim Caldwell.

“We expect Wednesday [Dec. 23] to be our busiest day since COVID hit,” Caldwell said in an interview. “It will at least be one of the busiest.”

The recent slight travel uptick marks a departure from a year the aviation industry hopes to forget. BTR has seen its passenger traffic fall by 53% on the year, and that’s better than the national airport average.

“Because of the duration of COVID, it’s been the single-most adverse event for aviation in decades,” Caldwell said. “Since I’ve been in the industry, this has been the worst.”

The best way airports can limit the virus’s spread, Caldwell said, is through mask use and social distancing. At BTR, a large Santa Claus doll stands next to a free mask dispenser, and foot markers remind passengers to stay six feet apart. An $8.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation this past April has helped the airport further its virus mitigation measures.

“Everyone has to wear a mask inside the terminal, as they do in an aircraft,” he said. “We’ve got extensive cleaning protocols in place.”

But despite the Christmas bump, Caldwell projects airport traffic — in Baton Rouge and beyond — will remain lower than usual for some time.

“As more and more vaccinations become available and things go well in that regard, I think there’s going to be a pretty robust return to 2019 levels, if not by the end of next year, by the end of 2022,” he said.

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