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San Diego Airport Business Grounded By Coronavirus

An empty parking lot outside the San Diego International Airport on Mar. 27, 2020.
Erik Anderson
An empty parking lot outside the San Diego International Airport on Mar. 27, 2020.

San Diego airline passenger traffic has not ground to a halt because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but air travel is down significantly as the nation grapples with an unprecedented response to the disease.

Will Lashley got off a plane in San Diego just after 11 a.m. Friday. He just spent hours flying across the country in a wide-bodied plane.

“It was six passengers on my flight. Six passengers," Lashley said. "It was delayed a little bit. But there were six passengers. Everyone had plenty of space and it was cool.”

RELATED: Waves, Beaches Empty As San Diego Steps Up Fight Against Virus Spread

For Natalie Tull, who was on the same flight, she said it was uncharacteristically comfortable as she flew to San Diego to pick up her granddaughter.

“I was able to sprawl out across all three seats,” Tull said. “Everybody kind of scattered amongst the plane. There wasn’t any beverage or snack service or anything like that. But it was smooth sailing. No problems.”

The few passengers might be good for social distancing, but a disaster for airlines. A cross-country flight with six paying passengers is not economically feasible.

Here in San Diego, the airport parking lots are largely empty, there is not much traffic on the surrounding streets, and most of the people inside the airport work there.

Video: San Diego International Airport Says Passenger Traffic Is Down Significantly

RELATED: Job Losses Staggers San Diego’s Economy

The San Diego Airport Authority’s Scott Brickner acknowledges this has been a disastrous month. He said the Transportation Security Administration is recording sharp passenger declines.

“At the beginning of the month, it started out we ... were up 2% year over year,” Brickner said. “And it started to decline slowly and then just very rapidly for the rest of the month. And even the last week, we’re down about 80 to 90%.”

The economic impact is widely expected to be much deeper and longer than the shutdown linked to the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. That disruption only lasted a few days. This one could last for weeks.

“When we see things like this we can put measures in place that protect us financially,” Brickner said. “A hiring freeze, reducing expenses to only the most critical things, delaying some of the capital projects."

San Diego Airport Business Grounded By Coronavirus
Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.