Chattanooga Airport traffic down 30-35% amid coronavirus

Staff File Photo / Chattanooga Airport expects to add nearly 800 more parking spaces within the next four to five months to deal with higher passenger boardings. Also, work on a 1,300-space parking garage is likely to start next year, officials said.

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Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Joe and Robin Reed of St. Petersburg, Florida, were in the Chattanooga area this past weekend to attend the celebration of a wedding.

"It was uncancelable," said Robin Reed at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport on Monday morning as they were preparing to fly back to Florida. But, she added, she was "a little bit worried" about the trip.

Chattanooga Airport is seeing a sharp drop in passenger traffic, with bookings and the number of vehicles in the parking lot down about 30% to 35%, said Terry Hart, the airport's chief executive.

Lovell Field is heavy in business travel, Hart said, and the airport is seeing the impact of companies and individuals calling off plans.

"With everything going on, we knew we would start seeing a reduction in bookings," he said. "People are changing their travel plans and adjusting to what's going on. That will cause us to have to weather the storm a little bit."

Hart said that people are canceling conferences and business meetings.

"We don't know how long that's going to be," he said. "We don't have an end date to this yet."

The airport CEO said he expects to see reductions in the number of flights airlines will offer in and out of Chattanooga.

Delta Air Lines, the biggest single carrier out of Chattanooga, typically has from 10 to 11 departures daily to Atlanta, for example, Hart said.

"I expect to look at all the routes and the ones with multiple departures and have a reduction in that schedule," he said.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said last Friday that the company was seeing more cancellations than new bookings over the next month. Delta expects a capacity reduction by about 40% in the next few months, which it said was the largest in its history.

"The speed of the demand fall-off is unlike anything we've seen – and we've seen a lot in our business," Bastian told employees. "We are moving quickly to preserve cash and protect our company. And with revenues dropping, we must be focused on taking costs out of our business."

However, some travelers at Chattanooga Airport said Monday they're still flying while taking precautions.

Chet Daker of San Francisco, who was in Chattanooga visiting family, said at the airport that flying "doesn't really scare me." He said the terminal in Chattanooga wasn't busy on Monday morning.

"No one is here. I keep to myself," he said.

Justin Cobaugh of Athens, Tennessee, said he was headed to Jacksonville, Florida, on business.

"I've got no concerns," he said. "I feel that if there was a concern, the government would put in travel restrictions. I'll continue to fly in the near future."

A note from Hart on the airport's website said the health and safety of passengers, personnel and its partners remain first priorities as it monitors the impact of the coronavirus.

"The World Health Organization has said there is very little risk of contracting a communicable disease aboard an aircraft due to high-efficiency air filtration systems," he said. But, the airport is taking additional precautions to ensure a sanitary and healthy environment throughout its passenger terminals and shared spaces, Hart said.

The airport's housekeeping staff is continuing to pay special attention to disinfecting high-traffic areas such as check-in kiosks, countertops, hand rails, seating areas and other shared spaces, he said.

Hart said air travelers should call their carriers to get the latest updates on their flights.

"They've got to reduce capacity," he said. "The demand is not there."

At the same time, Hart said the airport is making no plans to delay a planned expansion calling for construction of a $25 million, 1,300-space parking garage.

"There will be a period to time until things settle down," he said. "We'll fight through this bump."

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.