Flights slow at GPI amid virus pandemic

| March 31, 2020 11:16 AM

Flights in and out of Glacier Park International Airport have nearly ground to a halt as the COVID-19 outbreak has tightened its grip on travelers across the country.

Airport Director Rob Ratkowski said airport traffic was holding pretty steady until Thursday, March 19. Since then, he said airport passengers at the Kalispell airport have been “slowing down a lot.”

Starting last Thursday, Ratkowski said the number of airport passengers essentially was cut in half overnight. Over the past week, he said the airport has seen a 75% to 90% reduction in passengers from its normal traffic.

The airport, which normally handles about 680 passengers daily during this time of year, is now processing 100 or fewer passengers a day over the past week. Ratkowski said, “we’re putting eight, nine, 13 people on planes right now.”

While April is traditionally Glacier Park International’s slowest month out of the year, Ratkowski pointed out traffic has never been “this slow.”

He explained many passengers have stopped traveling because of coronavirus, and as a result many airlines have canceled flights due to lack of demand. Many airlines have been canceling flights the day before they’re scheduled because so many passengers have changed their plans.

United, which flies to Denver and Chicago, reportedly has stopped running all of its Kalispell flights. Many other airlines have reduced the number of daily flights out of GPIA, and Ratkowski said he expects even more reductions moving forward.

But he said he hasn’t heard anything from the airline carriers about definite future plans or possibilities of recovery.

“We have no clarity on the future at this point,” he said.

He also explained there has been no screening for coronavirus at the airport so far. The Flathead City-County Health Board would make the decision to start screening at the airport, and Health Board personnel would be responsible for conducting the screenings there.

Ratkowski nevertheless remains optimistic about the future of the airport.

“We’re in a good financial position,” he said. “We’re going to be able to ride this out.”

He also said the airport plans to avoid layoffs or pay cuts for airport staff. Staff members have already been split into two different shifts to keep workers safe and busy throughout the changing situation. “We’ll have continuity of operations hopefully between the shifts,” he said.

“Everyone’s just having to adjust,” he added.