It has been a turbulent time for more than a year for the airline industry and for the team at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks.
In the spring of 2020, passenger activity levels at Bradley were down more than 95 percent, compared to pre-pandemic figures. Although passenger activity appears to be increasing recently, there is still a long way to go to return to normal levels, airport officials said.
This week, Claudine Howard was traveling back home to the Orlando area, flying out of Bradley International Airport (BDL) after visiting her daughter in Baltimore and having a surprise visit to see her mom in Hartford.
“She was on the counter sobbing,” Howard said of her time with her mother. “It was the most beautiful experience for everybody.”
Howard said she was nervous about her first flights in nearly two years. “It took me more than two weeks to book my flight because I was actually petrified,” she said. “The flight was completely full. It scared the hell out of me, to be perfectly candid, but it was uneventful.”
NBC Connecticut Investigates analyzed TSA security checkpoint data from the start of the pandemic that showed Bradley’s passenger activity levels were down at times as much as 97 percent. But at the beginning of 2021, there were signs of a rebound at the airport.
“We were still down about 60 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels but when we look at where we are today, we’re down about 40 to 50 percent on any given day,” said Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, which oversees operations at BDL.
Dillon said, despite the pandemic, JetBlue added flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Cancun. Southwest airlines added service to Nashville. Sun Country Airlines recently announced flights to Minneapolis and Orlando. Dillon also said that a start-up airline, Breeze Airways, will soon have service to Pittsburgh, Columbus, Ohio, Charleston, South Carolina and Norfolk, Virginia.
“Week by week, we’re seeing more and more people being comfortable with traveling,” Dillon said. “There’s no doubt that the increase has correlated directly with the vaccine rollout here,” he said.
Federal regulations still require masks be worn in the terminal and for the duration of the flight, at least through September, according to the TSA. Bradley was one of the first airports int the country to require masks in the terminal as the pandemic was taking hold last year, Dillon said.
Meanwhile, Bradley International Airport has launched a new online resource, BDL Cares, to help passengers learn about what protocols and procedures have changed and what to expect the next time they return to the airport.
“I’m lot more comfortable leaving from here than I did in Orlando,” said Howard of her experience at Bradley. “To actually be able to touch your people and to hug them after almost two years – it’s been an incredible trip.”