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Roanoke airport travel slowly increasing, but pandemic recovery could take years

‘You build the air service up and then COVID comes along and blows everything up’

A plane takes off from the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport.
A plane takes off from the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport. (WSLS)

ROANOKE, Va. – The parking lot was packed and suitcases stuffed as holiday travelers file in and out of the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport on Tuesday morning.

Jeff Richards was flying back home to Montana after a two-week visit to Christiansburg. He’s not worried about traveling during the pandemic.

“Everybody in my family has already had COVID-19 and we’re all through it. So this doesn’t bother me a bit,” said Richards.

Nancy Womack was flying to Florida to visit her daughter.

“I have not seen her for a year,” said Womack.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, capacity is down by 40% and the number of fliers is about 50% what it was before.

2019 saw a record number of flyers: 719,707. As of November this year: 268,334.

The airport’s director of marketing air service development, Brad Boettcher, said fewer travelers means deals to expand service to Dallas and Houston were put on hold.

“You build the air service up and then COVID comes along and blows everything up,” said Boettcher.

Early on, the airport adapted by ramping up cleaning and enforcing health guidelines. Traffic has slowly picked back up.

“Everybody’s trying to keep everybody else safe. And if customers need to travel, we want to be ready and available for them when they are,” said Boettcher.

Even though we’re only nine months into the pandemic, it could take years for the airport to recover. Boettcher said it all depends on the vaccine, the economy and how comfortable and safe travelers feel hopping on a plane.

For Richards and the other travelers at the airport, if it means wearing a mask and social distancing, they’ll do whatever it takes to get home for the holidays.

“We’re looking forward to getting home,” said Richards.


About the Author:

Lindsey joined the WSLS 10 team as a reporter in February 2019 and is thrilled to call Roanoke her new home!