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Traveling in the 'New Normal'

Commercial planes provide weather forecasters with vital data, so widespread flight cancellations could hurt local weather reports.
Silas Stein
DPA/AFP via Getty Images
Commercial planes provide weather forecasters with vital data, so widespread flight cancellations could hurt local weather reports.

In 2020, the travel sector lost 492 billion dollars … an unprecedented 42% annual decline.

Now a year later, airports across the state are seeing leisure travel once again taking off.

The impact is being felt at Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City. The airport flies non-stop to 17 cities across the U.S.

“When the pandemic first hit we lost over 95 percent of passengers.”

Kevin Klein is the airport director.

He said although passenger travel dropped, Cherry Capital was able to stay afloat because of funding from the CARES Act and an influx of medical staff flying in and out of the state to support hospitals that were overwhelmed with COVID patients.

He said since February there’s been a resurgence in leisure travel.

“We’re starting to see that travel you know really come back to Traverse City in a strong way. From a leisure standpoint, business is very busy our downtown is very busy, all of our hotels have no vacancies ”

Nearly 200 miles south of Cherry Capital, Bishop International Airport in Flint, is also experiencing similar benefits from leisure travelers.

“Travel has come back bigger than ever.”

Pat Corfman is the director of marketing at the airport.

It’s like people are getting back to their lives again. You know usually on the Fourth of July weekend we don’t see a whole bunch of traffic in the airport most people are heading up north doing some fun camping or something. This year it was just a blockbuster weekend it was something kind of shocking to see.”

Corfman said travel is on the rise because people are feeling a sense of normalcy.

She said 2021 travel is just as high as it was in 2019.

“We’re running like 90% full, 84% full is statistically full and we’re running between 90 and 100. It's phenomenal.”

Although leisure travel has bounced back, business travel remains low.

And that, airport officials say, is still a problem.

James Canders is the airport director at M-B-S Airport in Freeland.

“Business travelers, it can account for 80 percent of the traffic so with businesses shut down we saw a massive decrease in-flight passengers going through MBS.”

Canders said businesses in Midland, Bay City, and the Saginaw area haven’t gone back to full capacity or to business travel.

He said workers and managers have found that a lot of work can be done on technology platforms.

“Businesses learned to adapt with technologies like Zoom and Microsoft Team meetings. Where they can do a lot of virtual meetings and that helps but I don’t see that is something that can replace face-to-face meetings that certain businesses have occasionally in order to conduct their business well.”

Canders said local businesses tell him they’re anticipating a return to travel by the end of the year.

Some changes will come sooner.

Right now masks are still required in airports and on airplanes. Kevin Klein in Traverse City said in September the federal government is expected to announce changes.

“I don’t know what the federal government is going to do they could do some different staging of relief of masks, in public areas, and then as you get into the secured area maybe you’re still required to wear a mask. ”

Klein said different states, airlines, and travel agencies have suggested different strategies for what should happen in the upcoming months.

Long term, Klein said he expects the airline industry will see a full recovery by 2023. That will include the revival of business travel and international leisure trips.

“When you look at the passenger aspect of it I think the industry is going to change a little more in the next 5 years to maybe that leisure focus.”

Once free of the pandemic, Klein said the travel industry will see major developments in the next 5 to 10 years including electric and supersonic aircraft. He predicts there will also be an increase of international travel to Europe.

And it seems the new normal is bringing a new vocabulary. Another prediction is the emergence of bleisure travel … combining business and leisure trips. It’s one more way the travel industry will pick up business and adapt to new trends in the ‘new normal’ after COVID.

This story was produced as part of the Michigan News Group Internship. A collaboration between WCMU and eight community newspapers. Gena is based at the Big Rapid Pioneer

Gena is a rising junior at Central Michigan University, double majoring in broadcast and cinematic arts and political science.