Passenger traffic is down more than 50% from last year because of the pandemic. Air Service Manager Valerie Wise says flights have been averaging about half capacity, and the holidays are unlikely to change that.
Like past years, the busiest travel days will be the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after.
"Over Thanksgiving last year, we probably saw close to 3,000 passengers during the peak days," she said. This year, "We probably will see somewhere between 1,500 and 1,600 seats during the busy days."
And fewer passengers means fewer — and fuller — flights, she says. Alaska and Delta airlines are still keeping middle seats open, while others are booking all seats.
Airport officials stress they’ve taken steps to keep travelers safe, including requiring masks in the airport. Transportation Security Administration workers are required to wear masks, gloves and face shields at checkpoints, and passengers must wear masks during flights, per airlines' regulations.
"As long as you are following CDC guidelines to limit the exposure and spread of the coronavirus, you’re just as safe flying as you are going to the store to get a gallon of milk," said TSA Federal Security Director Jay Brainard. "But it is important that people be responsible when they travel.
"Numbers, not just in Kansas but across the country, are up right now for COVID-19."
All but a handful of states are experiencing "unchecked community spread" of the coronavirus as the number of U.S. cases has surpassed 12 million. Kansas has reported more than 142,000 cases since the pandemic began, and the positive test rate is currently 19%.
Even with precautions, the CDC is urging people to just stay home this Thanksgiving.
"Travel increases the chance of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19," the CDC wrote recently in its holiday travel guidance. "Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others."
AAA Kansas says 86% of people it surveyed aren’t traveling for Thanksgiving, and of those, 47% say COVID-19 is the reason. Among people who say they are traveling, just 14% will fly somewhere.
For those who are flying, Eisenhower Airport officials recommend checking the health guidelines of your travel destination: Some states require COVID-19 test results, and others require quarantines.
"I would recommend that if you’re thinking about flying, just do your research and you’ll be fine," Wise said.