HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — About 55,000 people used Harrisburg International Airport in September, according to preliminary figures provided to abc27 by the airport. That’s only half the 110,000 people who would be expected in a typical September but far higher than the 5,016 people who used the airport in all of April, the worst month of the COVID-19 era.
October looks likely to be similar to September, according to airport spokesman Scott Miller; an expectation corroborated by an abc27 analysis of October schedules at airports commonly used by Midstate PA travelers.
Here’s the percentage decline in seats scheduled at each airport for October 2020 compared to October 2019, according to Cirium schedule data:
Harrisburg: down 48 percent
Philadelphia: 56 percent
Baltimore-Washington: down 39 percent
“Philadelphia has fared worse because it relies more heavily on international travelers and high-frequency business travelers,” explained Ben Mutzabaugh, senior airline editor for The Points Guy and a native of Enola in Cumberland County. “Baltimore has a lot of flights to leisure destinations and a lot of low-fare carriers, and that’s really what’s saving the day right now.”
Rail service, subsidized here by the state of Pennsylvania, has held up better in the Midstate than almost anywhere else in America. Amtrak’s Harrisburg and Lancaster stations are among a minority in the country that hasn’t seen significant service cuts, an Amtrak spokeswoman confirmed to abc27. Nationally, Amtrak slashed jobs and services today.
Airlines slashed jobs too, although American Airlines, which directly employs more people at HIA than any other airline, told abc27 none of its Harrisburg-based employees were involuntarily furloughed.
This is likely because of a combination of employees accepting voluntary buyout offers and the fact that some hard-hit employee groups, such as pilots and flight attendants, don’t have anyone based at HIA, which is an “outstation,” in airline parlance, served by planes and people based at airports in cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth and Charlotte.
Passengers who spoke with abc27 at HIA today generally said they weren’t nervous about traveling during the pandemic – perhaps unsurprising, given that the most wary would-be travelers are likely those who aren’t traveling. One arriving passenger – Liz Ester of Ocala, Florida, in town to visit her daughter – said she felt safe but was surprised to travel on an Allegiant flight that was nearly full, including middle seats.
Among airlines serving HIA, only Delta continues blocking middle seats, in its case through Jan. 6. Southwest, with flights at Philadelphia and Baltimore-Washington, is blocking middle seats through Nov. 30.