MSP Airport sees boost during MEA week, might add COVID testing site

Callan Gray
Updated: October 19, 2020 10:56 PM
Created: October 19, 2020 10:43 PM

Seven months after the pandemic started, travel from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is showing signs of growth.

About 17,500 passengers went through security last Thursday, marking the busiest day since March, according to the Metropolitan Airports Commission. For the last seven days, MSP has averaged 14,177 passengers per day, which is 17% higher than the Labor Day holiday week.

“That’s a major increase from what we've seen in the past,” said Patrick Hogan, the MAC spokesperson. 

He told us during seven of the last 10 weeks, they’ve reached at least 30 percent of 2019 passenger levels. On Thursday, they reached about 35 percent. 

“That sounds really low but it's a positive move for us,” Hogan said. “We've had a hard time getting past that 30 percent level of last year's passengers and over the past couple of months we've been seeing that pretty regularly.”

Hogan believes the growth is a combination of pent up demand for traveling and increased health and safety precautions by airlines and airports.

“It will take a couple of years to get back to normal but we are slowly making our way,” Hogan said.

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There are more people traveling across the country than earlier in the pandemic. The TSA reported more than a million passengers cleared its checkpoints on Sunday, the highest number since March 17. 

“It’s been a very, very slow but also pretty steady inch towards normal,” said Kyle Potter, the executive editor of Minnesota-based travel and flight deal website Thrifty Traveler.

“There are a lot of factors behind that,” Potter said. “Airlines have been getting even more aggressive in discounting airfare domestically and even to Europe into next summer. I think people are starting to get sick of the idea they can't travel.”

The recent snow in Minnesota has also helped, according to Potter. He said Southern California, Florida, Texas and Phoenix are some of the most inexpensive trips for Minnesota travelers right now.

“Airlines know they can get people on those planes so they’re more willing than ever to discount fares to get them there,” Potter said. “Price is one of the few things airlines can do to convince people to buy a plane ticket right now.”

Airlines are also taking extra safety precautions.

“They do this because they trust that it makes people feel safer and that makes them more likely to buy a ticket on Delta, or Southwest or Alaska Air, these airlines that are blocking middle seats,” Potter said.

While Hogan said they are seeing more last-minute trips booked through MSP, Potter is noticing people are booking travel in advance more so than a couple of months ago.

“We know people are itching to get out there, itching to get traveling,” said Ted Blank, a luxury travel advisor for Travel Leaders. “We've definitely seen a slow and steady increase in travel and interest in travel pretty much since Labor Day.”

He said they’re seeing growth among both corporate and vacation travelers.

“I think people have started to recognize they can do things to be safe here in Minnesota and those same things will work when they travel,” said Blank.

He told us the role of travel agents has also expanded.

“Do you need a COVID test before you go to a destination or not? How far in advance? And sometimes, where can you even get a COVID test within 72 hours of departure?” said Blank. “We have to be experts on the health-related aspects of travel.”

Travel restrictions continue to present challenges, with some states requiring a quarantine. Last week, Hawaii started allowing tourists to bypass the mandatory 14-day quarantine if they have negative COVID test results, taken within 72 hours of departure. 

“I think that in the short to medium term, some kind of testing regimen is going to be needed to open travel back up,” said Blank.

Hogan said they are looking at the possibility of adding a testing site to MSP.

“We’re looking at potential testing programs hoping that in the future some of the states and some of the countries that folks are being quarantined in now, perhaps will not if somebody can produce a negative of a coronavirus test within a couple days of travel,” Hogan said. “We are also working with the industry to make sure that other states will in fact relax those travel restrictions.”

He said they are still looking into what kind of testing method to use.

On Oct. 25, overseas flights will resume at MSP with Delta restarting its non-stop flight to Amsterdam. The first flight was more than half empty by Monday night.

“For the foreseeable future, I really doubt that we're going to see a lot of those other big international flights return,” Potter said

There are currently 61 routes suspended out of Minneapolis, which were active before COVID-19. Hogan said, however, they are slowly seeing an increase in flights out of MSP.

He expects travel will be up again for Thanksgiving, surpassing last week's numbers.

“We expected it to be busier than normal because MEA always is in Minnesota but we didn't know how much,” said Hogan. “We were pleased with the numbers that we saw and I think it’s part of a trend of more people being willing to travel again than they were a couple of months ago.”


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