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St. Louis airport sees sharp drop in traffic as coronavirus roils the airline business

St. Louis airport sees sharp drop in traffic as coronavirus roils the airline business

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Travellers taking precautions from exposure to the coronavirus

"I have been wearing this mask since I rode the metro this morning to the airport," said Elizabeth Knote of Cape Girardeau, who arrives early afternoon from Washington D.C. on Thursday, March 12, 2020, at Terminal 1 at St. Louis Lambert International Airport. "I have some concerns. I take care of my mother who is 92 years old. I don't want to have to be quarantined,î said Knote, who wears a mask to protect herself from exposure to the coronavirus. At least 23 cases had been confirmed in the District, Maryland and Virginia as of Wednesday morning. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS COUNTY — St. Louis Lambert International Airport has seen a steep drop in passenger traffic as the airline industry retrenches in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of passengers boarding or departing planes last week fell by 30% to 40% compared to the same time last year, spokesman Jeff Lea said.

The drop in traffic comes as U.S. airports are seeking $10 billion in federal assistance because of the sharp downturn in traffic caused by the pandemic. The Airports Council International–North America, which represents government-owned commercial airports in the U.S. and Canada, is forecasting losses in revenue this year totaling at least $8.7 billion.

At the same time, major airlines are seeking $50 billion in assistance after slashing flights amid restrictions on international travel and a decline in passenger numbers.

Airlines for America, the trade group representing American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and others, said the industry needs $25 billion in grants, $25 billion in loans and significant tax relief to survive.

Travel to the U.S. has been barred from most of Europe, China and Iran. Southwest, the largest carrier at Lambert, does not serve Europe or Asia and had not suspended scheduled flights as of Monday. But other passenger airlines with long-haul service are parking dozens of airplanes. United said it will be eliminating 50% of its flights in April and May; American is paring 75% of its international capacity; Delta is cutting 40%.

Lambert is bracing for the dip in traffic to affect the airport’s operations, Lea said. The airport, concessions and other business owners housed in the airport could be reducing staffing in the future, he said.

“I think everybody is having those discussions now,” he said. “Certainly, if airlines are reducing flights there is going to be a trickle down to staffing at airports throughout the entire country.”

Passenger traffic at Lambert started dropping in late February, Lea said. But a full picture of the impact on passenger traffic won’t be available for a few weeks until monthly traffic numbers are updated, he said.

“We get our passenger data about three weeks after the conclusion of each month,” Lea said. “We’ll have a better picture in early April.”

The airport has increased cleaning of public areas and placed additional hand-sanitizer stations in terminals and concourses, Lea said. Restaurants and concessions, as well as the airlines, are cleaning and sanitizing, as well.

“We’ve had a lot of communications to make sure all our partners are doing their part in their areas of responsibility,” he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.

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