Sea-Tac Airport hopeful for higher May passenger counts after 53-year low

SEATTLE -- It was far from the usual bustling scene of travelers on Memorial Day weekend at Sea-Tac International Airport.

The airport is reporting a 53-year low of passenger numbers, though May is expected to see a slight increase in travelers compared to April.

“It was the most calm I’ve seen the airport,” said Wade Miller, who flew in from Albuquerque. “Yeah, I really don’t want to fly right now, but I've got to fly for work.”

Only a small number of passengers were trickling in at arrivals Sunday afternoon, including Cole McKisson who flew in from Los Angeles.

“The only thing I’m concerned about is being in an enclosed space like that for so long and recycling of the air,” said McKisson.

Aviation attorney Jimmy Anderson said filters on planes do use partially recycled air.

“So what happens is, the air gets on board and some of it is dumped outside via the outflow valve, and some of it is recirculated through air filters back into the cabin and depending on the aircraft, it’s about a 50-50 split," he said.

Anderson said the Federal Aviation Administration has not issued much guidance when it comes to social distancing.

We’ve also been seeing passengers posting videos to social media from packed planes.

Anderson said it’s a personal risk versus benefit decision, and each person’s assessment is unique on what he or she considers essential travel.

“Are you willing to rely on the person who’s going to sit next to you to self-report if they have symptoms before they get on board? No matter how good the air filters are on the airplane, you’re still in the same air space as a bunch of other people on board. Just like in an office building. If an office building recirculates its air, we’re still concerned about the people that are around us,” said Anderson.

The numbers are proving that most people are erring on the side of caution. Sea-Tac saw a 93 percent drop in the number of passengers this past April compared to that of last year.