Operations at Wilmington International Airport continue to reflect the realities of travel during the COVID-19 epidemic.
Passenger volume is down about 80%, as ILM Director Julie Wilsey mentioned in an interview last week
. As an example, a quick check Monday showed almost all American Airlines flights scheduled to fly Tuesday from ILM to New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) were canceled as well as to some other routes, though flights were still listed as taking place as scheduled.
Most Tuesday flights between ILM and Charlotte (CLT) were shown as “on time,” but travelers headed from ILM to LGA via CLT would find the second leg of their trip canceled.
The airport’s website strongly encourages those with airline reservations to check with their carriers as to the flight status.
Limited parking options and a new fee structure went into effect at the airport Monday as a result of decreased demand during the coronavirus outbreak. The changes are:
- Only two lots will be open for passenger parking: the Premium Daily and Standard Daily lots.
- Fees for the Premium Lot are 0-30 minutes, free; 30 minutes-1 hour, $1.00; each additional hour, $1.00; maximum each 24 hours, $10.00.
- Fees for the Standard Lot are 0-30 minutes, free; 30 minutes-1 hour, $1.00; each additional hour, $1.00; maximum each 24 hours, $8.00
- No cash will be accepted as payment for parking in either lot. Individuals must use credit or debit cards.
- Returning passengers currently parked in any of the newly-closed lots will be able to exit the lot and pay with a credit card as usual.
“The new parking fees and other parking lot changes have been made in response to the coronavirus and our on-going commitment to be fiscally responsible in light of reduced demand during this period,” Donna Girardot, who chairs the New Hanover County Airport Authority, said Monday in an email.
“However, once the virus has run its course and we are able to resume normal operations, the public will see on-going changes to parking at the airport over the next few months or year as we implement our planned parking expansion to better serve their needs,” she added.
The airport also advises travelers to arrive at the terminal in plenty of time to allow for lower TSA staffing levels. As of March 18, the Transportation Security Administration placed a portion of its workforce at ILM on safety leave.
“TSA’s Safety Leave status applies to individuals in a high-risk category for COVID-19, such as those with pre-existing health conditions,” the administration’s advisory stated, adding that staffing levels would determine whether there is one screening line or two operating at any time.
Beth Walker, TSA’s Federal Security Director for Central and Eastern North Carolina, commented on the agency’s precautions and workforce reduction in an email Monday. She said the TSA is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as with state and local health departments, to monitor local situations as well as the health and safety of TSA employees and the traveling public.
“At ILM, the passenger volume has decreased precipitously. Therefore, it is not necessary to operate more than one lane at the checkpoint at this time,” Walker said. “Additionally, TSA across the country is also spacing out the number of operational lanes, where practical, in adherence to the CDC recommendation of social distancing. This practice is in the best interest of the TSA Officers and the public.
“During the times that ILM does operate a single checkpoint lane, the TSA PreCheck passengers will be screened as they would in a TSA PreCheck lane,” Walker added. “Currently, the TSA waittime at the ILM checkpoint has not exceeded 10 minutes but passengers are still advised to arrive early so they can do their part in socially distancing themselves.
"Passengers are also reminded to check their bags for prohibited items before they arrive so as not to require their bag to be opened to remove the item that cannot travel. Also remove all items from your pockets and place them into your carryon before you get to the checkpoint so you do not have to put items in bins unless required, such as your laptop and electronics larger than your cell phone, if you are not in the TSA PreCheck program.”
Walker mentioned that hand sanitizer bottles containing up to 12 ounces are now permitted in a traveler's carry-on bag, but may be subjected to additional screening.
Asked if ILM expansion work is being affected by the epidemic-related slowdown, Girardot said the terminal expansion is continuing for a number of reasons.
“When things return to normal following the coronavirus outbreak, we will need the extra terminal space, enhanced amenities for our passengers, additional gates to accommodate both current and future flights and increased TSA security space to meet future demand and better serve our airline partners and customers,” she said. “For this terminal expansion, we have contracted with a local firm and, in keeping with the Governor's Executive Order designating the construction industry as 'essential,' we are committed to keeping local employees employed during this period as long as it is safe and we are permitted to do so.”