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March travel at Detroit Metro Airport down 52%, could be worse in April

Posted at 6:30 PM, May 05, 2020

ROMULUS, Mich. (WXYZ) — All it takes is a quick glance at the nearly empty departures screen at the Detroit Metro Airport to see COVID-19's impact on what's generally one of the nation's busiest airports.

Check-in counters are all but empty, and the TSA line is any traveler's dream.

DTW has a significant economic impact on Michigan and specifically the metro Detroit region, according to Sandy Baruah, CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

“It is about $8 billion a year and that has about 80,000 jobs attached to it," Baruah told 7 Action News.

He's optimistic air travel will resume, just as it did after Sept. 11, 2001– the only time other than COVID-19 major airlines across the country saw such a sharp drop in passengers.

The Wayne County Airport Authority has not furloughed any workers, however airport businesses are mostly shuttered.

Of DTW’s 51 stores, 39 are temporarily closed and 46 of its 52 restaurants are temporarily closed, according to the Wayne County Airport Authority.

Nationwide, major airlines including Delta – which has a hub in Detroit – have reported significant losses in the first three months of 2020.

In an effort to avoid layoffs, the federal government agreed to a $25 billion bailout to major U.S. airlines.

Last week, DTW got a boost. The FAA announced more than $27 million in grant money going to DTW for runway work through the FAA's Airport Improvement Program.

“15 of those $27.5 million are what we call discretionary funds. The other part were the entitlements of the airport — based upon prior passenger traffic," said D. Kirk Shaffer, FAA Associate Administrator for Airports.

Last March, around 3.2 million travelers passed through the Detroit Metro Airport. This March, passengers are down by more than 50 percent to only 1.5 million.

But Baruah said that number is likely to shift even further south once the April numbers are released in the coming weeks.

"For the month of April I think we can all expect air travel across the country including at our airport here in Detroit to be down in the 95 percent range.”

And once people do start traveling more, air travel will likely look and feel very different -- major U.S. airlines are already requiring passengers and crew to wear face coverings on board, and have implement new policies for social distancing.