By Dakota Parks for Northwest Florida's Business Climate
At the onset of the global health crisis, industries across the globe began ceasing operations to reexamine safe business practices. In the airline industry, international travel bans were initiated, leisure travel came to a halt and airports quickly turned into ghost towns utilized only for postal cargo shipments and essential travel. When stay at home orders were first implemented, airports including Pensacola International Airport (PNS) witnessed a 92 percent drop in passenger count. Despite the closures and constant changes following CDC guidelines, the Pensacola International Airport has remained above the national averages for the airline industry across America experiencing only a 30 percent drop in last year’s numbers while the national average sits around a 60 percent decrease.
Lewis Garvin, the marketing director for PNS, accredits those numbers to implemented safety measures, socially distanced beach vacations and fast-acting local government.
“It’s a huge testament to what is going on in Pensacola not only to the vacation climate but also to the business climate and how our area is growing and thriving with the decisions that are being made by our local leadership,” Garvin explained. “We had an initial pushback to close the airport, but we had to stay open unless the FAA said otherwise. Our 20 travel destinations dropped down to eight destinations. Some days there were only four flights running when at our peak season you could see upwards of 80 flights a day.”
PNS has implemented several safety measures to protect passengers including enforcing the local mask mandate and providing hand sanitizer to all guests. Masks are to be worn inside the airport, at all boarding gates and during flights unless eating or drinking. The airport even purchased a unique hand sanitizer called microSURE that is Benzalkonium Chloride-based instead of alcohol-based and lasts up to eight hours after application. They have also increased the frequency of cleaning crews within the airport utilizing an electrostatic sanitizing method as well as sanitizing the airplane cabins between flights.
“Traveling during COVID is a personal decision, and we respect and understand the decision to abstain from traveling. We just want our guests to know that we have done everything on our part to keep them safe while traveling with us,” Garvin explained.
While implementing new safety measures, PNS has also been working to bring new flight and destination opportunities to Pensacola. In December, PNS is launching a new non-stop flight to Dulles International Airport (IAD) located on the outskirts of Washington, DC. The new service will begin on Dec. 17, 2020 through Jan. 4, 2021. From Jan. 5, 2021 to March 3, 2021, the flight will change to Saturday and Sunday Service and then back to daily service until the end of March.
“Non-stop flights are crucial to keeping an airport competitive, helping lower the cost of flights for travelers and increasing connections to other destinations,” Garvin explained. “We already had a direct flight to Washington, DC through American Airlines to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, but this allows us to open up more flights and bring more opportunity to Pensacola too. We want to see a lot of people come to Pensacola and enjoy our beaches, our culture and experience what Pensacola has to offer. Dulles is a great hub for international travel as well, so once international travel opens back up, we have positioned ourselves with a great new connection.”
Garvin also explained that Dulles is a crucial location to meet increasing demand for flights to Washington, DC and helps connect Pensacola to the Navy Federal Credit Union headquarters in Vienna, Virginia. As we approach the holiday season, PNS is closely anticipating increases in travel and working to ensure that the airport is prepared and maintains its social distanced protocol. Part of that preparation is tracking surveys conducted that estimate 60 percent of normal holiday travelers anticipate traveling while 30-40 of normal holiday travelers are opting not to travel this season. “
We are going to continue enforcing masks, keeping seats and lines spaced out by six feet and cleaning the airport and cabins to ensure that we are a safe and easy place to travel. We are constantly aiming to create the best air travel experience on the Gulf Coast,” Garvin said.