CORONAVIRUS

The Eastern Iowa Airport to begin requiring masks Tuesday

Airport seeks to build traveler confidence with passenger numbers still low

Airport employee Shalean Kuhn uses an electrostatic disinfectant sprayer to disinfect seats in the seating area in the t
Airport employee Shalean Kuhn uses an electrostatic disinfectant sprayer to disinfect seats in the seating area in the terminal at The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids this past May. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Eastern Iowa Airport will require anyone in the airport terminal to wear face coverings starting Tuesday, the airport commission unanimously decided Monday morning.

There are exemptions for passengers younger than 2 years due to possible suffocation, other passengers with medical conditions that prevents them from wearing face coverings and for anyone actively eating or drinking.

“It’s about trying to get people more comfortable to travel again,” airport Director Marty Lenss told The Gazette.

The airport previously required its employees to wear masks, but airport vendors did not need to do so. Now vendors, too, will have to wear masks while in any public part of the terminal.

“Anybody doing business in the terminal or coming into the terminal’s public areas will have to wear a mask,” Lenss said.

A passenger can obtain a mask at the airport for no cost if they do not have one. Lenss said the airport received about 65,000 masks from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We’ve got both cloth face masks as well as the lighter paper face masks,” Lenss said.

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The airport’s public safety officers and guest services staff will enforce the mask mandate, he said. If someone is not wearing a mask and is not a ticketed passenger, that person will be asked to leave the terminal.

A public safety officer will remind unmasked ticketed passengers of airlines’ mask requirements.

“They have to wear one on the airplane regardless or they can’t fly,” Lenss said.

Lenss said the goal is to enforce this “certainly without fines.”

Many other airports in the Midwest already have similar mask requirements, including O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.

Des Moines International Airport does not have a mask mandate, but passengers are “strongly encouraged” to wear a mask.

Guidance from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security released on July 2 said airports and airlines should require face coverings, among 10 other safety measures.

The commission also unanimously approved mandatory health screenings for all passengers at Monday’s commission meeting. The measure saw broad support at a public-comment hearing earlier in July, with no one disagreeing with the health screening measures and one person arguing for more precautions.

It’ll include a two-step health screening. If passengers pass the first phase — airport and health care officials anticipate that taking about 10 seconds — without any problems, they can proceed to the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint.

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There will be a more-thorough screening for anyone who does not pass the primary temperature check, including a health assessment to see if there’s another reason for the high temperature.

Assuming the airport receives financial support from the Federal Aviation Administration, Lenss expects the health screenings to begin in the first or second week of September.

Numbers ‘inching upwards’

After passenger traffic was down 97 percent year-to-year in April and 88 percent in May, passenger traffic was down 78 percent in June.

The passenger totals in June were the highest since March but are far from what the airport’s typical busy season would look like.

“The numbers have been inching upwards,” Lenss said. “It’s certainly headed in the right direction.”

Much of that increase comes from leisure travel during the summer. Allegiant Air, which markets itself toward vacation travelers, saw passenger numbers down only 58 percent in June.

Lenss said a good chunk of that will go away soon, though, with families holding off on vacations when children are in school.

“You traditionally see a slowdown in leisure traffic,” Lenss said. “Allegiant certainly adjusts to that factor.”

Other airlines’ passenger totals were down between 64 percent and 94 percent.

Delta Air Lines, which had 17,218 enplaned passengers at The Eastern Iowa Airport in June 2019, had 980 enplaned passengers in June 2020. Delta will resume service to Detroit and Atlanta on Aug. 1, so Lenss expects the Delta passenger totals “to pick up a little bit” in the next few weeks.

But it’s still not an easy path forward for the airport.

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“Business traffic has always been the constant, and nationally we just don’t have the same business traffic levels back that we need to see,” Lenss said.

“We can’t continue to run the business down 70 percent.”

Comments: (319) 398-8394; john.steppe@thegazette.com

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