In The Middle Of A Busy Travel Season, Do People Feel Safe Flying?

Airline passengers walk around San Diego International Airport with their lug...

Photo by Guillermo Sevilla

Above: Airline passengers walk around San Diego International Airport with their luggage, Dec. 21, 2020.

Public health experts say we’re in the darkest days of the pandemic, and yet millions of people have passed through the nation’s airports since Sunday.

Locally, tens of thousands of travelers have flown in and out of San Diego International Airport.

The TSA reported about 1.3 million passengers moved through the nation’s airports on Sunday. On Monday, it was more than 1 million.

At San Diego International, repeated announcements about physical distancing seemed to fall on deaf ears. Dozens of people crowded around baggage claim, just like in pre-pandemic times. So, KPBS asked people why they felt safe enough to chance it.

Stanley Dorsey had just returned from a trip to Georgia. Visiting family was his reason to travel.

Video by Roland Lizarondo

“Well, it’s an opportunity to for me to get a chance to spend time with my kids and my grandkids for the first time. This was our first holiday together,” Dorsey said.

Another traveler, Ashley Shafer, was also returning home Tuesday after visiting her family in Georgia. She said she wasn’t afraid to travel at all.

“I’m not afraid to die and I know I’m not going to die,” Shafer said. “My health is really well. I take care of myself.”

Airport officials say they have taken steps to make flying safer.

“We’ve implemented a number of modifications in the airport,” said airport Spokesperson Sabrina LoPiccolo.

Specifically, she said, the airport has placed floor decals reminding people to physically distance. Plexiglass barriers have been installed. And she said high-touch points are disinfected more often. Masks are also required while on airport property.

“We do have our staff that’s walking around and hopefully looking in those areas and trying to break up some of the areas in which perhaps there might be people a little closer than that six-foot distance,” LoPiccolo added.

Beyond that, it’s up to passengers to follow the rules.

RELATED: Airports, Including San Diego International, See Holiday Travel Surge As COVID-19 Cases Rise

San Diegan Nathan Mraz admitted he wasn’t completely comfortable traveling.

“I’m actually coming from San Francisco,” said Mraz, who had visited his girlfriend and her family.

“I’ll be honest, it’s not the most ideal situation right now with flying,” he said.

Mraz did say he was somewhat reassured to learn airlines have upgraded plane air filtration systems.

Along the same lines, LoPiccolo said the airport is awaiting results of a study on if any further improvements can be made to the airport’s HVAC systems.

She said the next busy travel day they’re expecting is after New Year’s, when tens of thousands of travelers will likely pass through San Diego International Airport once again.


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San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County’s NPR and PBS station.

John Carroll

General Assignment Reporter & Anchor

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI’m a general assignment reporter and Saturday morning radio anchor for KPBS. I love coming up with story ideas that aren’t being covered elsewhere, but I’m also ready to cover the breaking news of the day. In addition, I bring you the local news headlines on Saturday mornings during NPR’s Weekend Edition.

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