Travellers passing through Winnipeg Richardson International Airport will notice more than a few changes as public health orders grind all but the most essential travel to a halt.
“I can say that you can expect to arrive and the airport will be significantly quieter than you would be used to seeing,” said Jen Cameron, communications manager for the Winnipeg Airports Authority (WAA).
“Typically we see 12,300 passengers each day at the airport, and right now we’re seeing less than 200 a day departing … for flights I think we’re seeing between eight to 10 at this time.”
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Numbers released by the WAA at the end of April show a continuation of traffic volumes from the end of 2019 into 2020. That, however, changed dramatically in March as the seriousness of COVID-19 became apparent and was subsequently declared a pandemic.
Passenger traffic dropped 20 per cent in the first week of March, and by the last week bottomed out around 95 per cent lower than the same time period the year before. It was an “unheard of low,” according to the WAA.
Despite an advisory against non-essential travel and a mandatory 14-day isolation period for travellers entering Manitoba (and Canada altogether), though, some people are still getting on planes. The experience is just a little different.
“Currently there is a requirement for all travellers to wear non-medical masks or face coverings, and we’re promoting social distancing from the moment travellers walk into the building,” Cameron says.
That includes plenty of signage and audio notifications, informing people not only of the need to keep separate from one another, but also of the latest public health orders, prevention strategies, symptoms, relevant contact information and other protocols.
Regulars to Winnipeg’s airport will also notice the iconic “Hug Rug” at the arrivals area has vanished.
With traffic down substantially, the WAA says certain areas of the terminal have been closed off to cut down on heating and maintenance costs, some kiosks are kept off to minimize electricity consumption, and thermostats on boarding bridges have been turned down.
A mutually agreed-upon ban on cross border travel between Canada and the United States is set to expire on May 21. It’s unclear if it will be extended once more.