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Boise State Public Radio News is here to keep you current on the news surrounding COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Boise Airport: Essential? Absolutely; But Far From Normal

Boise Airport

Keeping the Boise Airport open is "essential" in the shadow of COVID-19; but things are definitely not "business as usual."

"We are seeing some very significant impacts to our operation,"said Boise Airport Director Rebecca Hupp. "There's definitely a contrast between Boise Airport on April 1 compared to March 1."

Hupp visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the dramatic drop in passengers, regular deep-cleaning at the airport, and whether the much-anticipated direct flights to Atlanta are still cleared for takeoff.

“Unfortunately, we have seen dramatic decreases in the number of passengers and that's completely understandable. I think, as a community, that is what we need to do. That's the right decision. But it certainly has impacted our flights.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: On a Wednesday, it's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. One of the biggest changes to our lives and the shadow of COVID-19 is travel ... or the lack of travel.

So that leads us to spend some time this morning with Rebecca Hupp, director of the Boise Airport and she joins us this morning via zoom. Rebecca Hupp, good morning.

REBECCA HUPP: Good morning, George. Thank you for the invite.

PRENTICE: Could you paint me a word picture of the Boise Airport this morning? Clearly not as many people are walking through your doors. 

HUPP: Well George, I think everyone is probably aware. It's a stark contrast at the Boise Airport today from what it was three months ago, much less a year ago. And we are seeing some very significant impacts to our operation.

And the airport does continue to be open because we are an essential service. And so of course, I would be remiss if I didn't shout out a huge thank you to our team who is keeping us running while so many of us work remotely.

Our partners continue to be there. Airlines, TSA, our concessionaires. But what passengers will notice is that a number of locations are closed temporarily, including some of the checkpoint lanes. In contrast, remember we just added a six lane for security screening because passenger demand had grown so much, and now the existing lanes that we have been closed.

Some of the restaurants have been closed and passengers will notice increased signage reminders to wash your hands. Although I know we are all hearing that multiple times a day. Signs about social distancing. We've put indications on the floor, what six feet apart looks like in the baggage claim. So there's definitely a contrast between Boise Airport on April 1st compared to March 1st.

PRENTICE: Last week we learned that a TSA agent at the airport tested positive for COVID-19. Have there been any other incidents?

HUPP: I would note that we know that there are a number of people in Idaho who have tested positive for COVID, many of them, it was travel related. So it's reasonable to expect that we have had people who've transited the Boise Airport who've tested positive for COVID. That said, as the airport, we have several stakeholders and partners so we would not necessarily be aware of our tenants and our partners who maybe have had an employee who has tested positive for COVID.

All of the notifications for positive tests are being handled through central district health, and they are doing the notifications. I think because of the privacy issue related to health inquiries, obviously people are not sharing protected health information, and the notifications are being issued through this central district health district. And they're coordinating with anyone who may have had a potential exposure. So we are not part of that direct communication.

PRENTICE: But, to the best of your knowledge, are any airport employees testing positive?

HUPP: Just given the sheer volume of people who are being tested, I suspect that there are people at the airport who have been tested, but I can't really comment on again, people's personal health information.

PRENTICE: Well, the nation's airlines are reeling. Every morning we're hearing about significant furloughs among the airlines. Is that something you now have to consider with your workforce?

HUPP: We are hearing about furloughs in the industry, not just the airlines, but our concession partners, our rental car partners. We are not at this point in time doing furloughs. Our team continues to work. The airport continues to be operational. So that is not something that we're doing.

As you can imagine, we still have people who are inspecting runways. We still have people who are cleaning restrooms. All of those functions continue. We have maintenance people who are working in the terminal and who are responding if there're issues. So our work really hasn't changed.

PRENTICE: In fact, I have to assume that sanitation has doubled or maybe even tripled up.

HUPP: The health and safety of our community is very important to us, and I think one of the things that our community most appreciates about the Boise Airport is just its general cleanliness. So we have a track record of focusing on keeping the terminal clean. But we have increased those efforts. We're following the guidelines by CDC.

We're using their recommended cleaning products and we're focusing on general cleaning but also really focusing on the high touch areas, restroom seating, handrails, elevators, doorknobs. I will tell you our team, there's nothing that they haven't thought of. Even to the point of the charging cords on the charging stations. I was walking to the terminal the other day and our team's wiping down everything. There's no detail too small.

PRENTICE: Well we've seen lots of photos and videos of some flights that are half empty.

HUPP: I would say if flights were even half full, we would be doing comparatively well. Unfortunately, we have seen dramatic decreases in the number of passengers and that's completely understandable. I think, as a community that is what we need to do. That's the right decision. But it certainly has impacted our flights.

You may recall just a couple months ago, we were talking about where we would park all of the passengers who are traveling for spring break, and we were worried that we might not have enough parking.

Today, our parking lots are mostly empty. I would say although we do not have the numbers for March, anecdotally, we are seeing a dramatic decrease in passengers.

PRENTICE: Well, let's talk about something positive. A number of new routes had been scheduled for the Boise Airport this year, including the much anticipated direct flight to Atlanta. Is that still on schedule?

HUPP: I think at this point airlines are in crisis management mode and so they are focused on flights today, flights for April, May into June. I don't think that they're looking at their flight schedules in July at this point. We have not been notified of any changes to our July schedule, and that Atlanta flight is scheduled to start in early July, and I am optimistic that that will continue.

PRENTICE: Well, let's leave it on a note of optimism then. I need to do a health check. How are you and how's your family?

HUPP: Thank you, George. We are well and we are following the CDC guidelines to the best of our ability.

PRENTICE: Well, thanks so much for joining us, and best of luck to you and your colleagues.

HUPP: Thank you, George. I appreciate it. You too.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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