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'Ghost town' atmosphere greets airport patrons; travel plummets 90 percent

The Grand Rapids airport normally handles about 14,000 passengers a day, but travel restrictions and coronavirus concerns have daily volume down by about 90 percent.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — While Spring Break has traditionally been a boon for airlines, coronavirus travel restrictions are keeping many fliers grounded, resulting in a 90 percent drop in passenger traffic at Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

“March came along with the pandemic and literally traffic just plummeted,’’ said Tory A. Richardson, president and CEO of the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority. “We are now seeing no lines at the curb, no lines at the airline ticket counters. Or anywhere.’’

The Grand Rapids airport typically sees about 14,000 passengers arriving and departing each day. Not anymore.

“Today, we’re probably closer to only 10 percent of the passenger traffic coming through the building,’’ Richardson said in a recent interview at the nearly deserted airport.

And it is not just here.

The Transportation Security Administration screened 154,080 people on Monday, March 30, a drop of more than 93 percent from the same date last year, when more than 2.3 million people passed through airport checkpoints, according to an Associated Press report. 

Richardson said travelers should check with their airline to see if flights are still scheduled. 

“Just because a flight is scheduled at this point does not mean it’s going to operate,’’ he said. “Airlines are all having to make individual decisions on a daily basis as to whether or not they’re going to be able to operate that flight.’’

The financial sting, Richardson said, isn’t limited to commercial airlines.

“The food and beverage services, the restaurants, the retail stores. Everything else is taking a hit as a result of that,’’ he said.

Rental cars are packed like sardines at an airport lot; there’s no one coming in to rent them. The parking garage and surface lots have ample space.

“The numbers in the parking garage continue to decrease in terms of the numbers of vehicles out there,’’ Richardson said. “They’re not using the parking, they’re not buying any food, they’re not buying items in the gift stores. Everything basically shuts down as a result of no people flying.’’

It certainly runs counter to record growth seen at GRR in recent years.

More than 3.5 million passengers flew in and out of the Grand Rapids airport in 2019. Passenger volume last year marked the seventh consecutive year of record-setting growth. The airport has seven airlines serving nearly three dozen major market destinations daily.

Richardson says the Ford airport remains open for essential travel and cargo flights.

“We are here, we are open,’’ he said. “We look forward to serving more passengers in the future. And we are here, ready to serve them when the time is right.’’

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