‘It’s very good to have traffic back’: JIA travelers almost back at pre-pandemic levels

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — It’s feeling a lot more like the holidays, when it comes to the temperatures outside and the number of people making their way to the airport for Thanksgiving.

Michael Stewart, the Director of External Affairs for the Jacksonville Aviation Authority, said the number of travelers they’ve seen since the start of this week is near pre-pandemic levels.

Stewart told Action News Jax’s Courtney Cole they are prepared for the increase in travelers.

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A big part of that preparation includes the airport now working much closer with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and airlines supporting one another to make your travel experience smoother.

“Are we going to Tennessee? Can you tell her we’re going to Tennessee?,” Samuel Crozier asked his son Connor, who a smile you know is there, even behind a mask.

The Croziers are a part of the 4.2 million people projected by AAA to travel on an airplane this Thanksgiving holiday.

“Oh, they are such good travelers! We’re having a fun year!,” Crozier told Cole.

Stewart said he’s expecting operations to be normal at Jacksonville International Airport today.

“We had a very good push, as we call it, on the outbound traffic this morning. No real hiccups,” Stewart told Action News Jax.

“It’s very good to have traffic back. That’s what you want your airport to be, bustling and full of activity. Concessions are ready to handle additional traffic, and TSA is doing a tremendous job in gearing up to get ready for our travelers,” Stewart said.

Stewart provided travel numbers for this holiday period over the last four years.

Today, there are 10,607 travelers making their way through Jacksonville International Airport, which isn’t too far from the 11,429 travelers on this same day in 2019.

Crozier said Grammy is cooking in Nashville, and it is his favorite part — and definitely worth the trip.

“Absolutely, we’re very excited! Corona prevented us from getting together last year, so it’s so very good to be able to see family this year,” Crozier said.

Stewart said during this holiday weekend, if you have checked bags, have to park, or don’t have TSA Pre-Check, you should plan to arrive two hours before your flight.

For some, today travel concerns weren’t about the airport, but about the airlines.

This comes following the cancellation of flights on American Airlines and Southwest Airlines over the last month.

That’s why Stewart advises all travelers to make sure to check your flight information before you come to the airport.

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Once travelers do make it to their destinations, some will spend a lot of their time in the kitchen this Thanksgiving like Nicole Broomes.

“It’s like 12 different dishes and I’m making them all by myself,” Nicole Broomes said proudly. “I’m doing all the cooking!”

Others, like Kofi Mensah, are just waiting to pack their plate.

“I’m eating all of it! All of it! Taking it all down to the tummy!” Mensah exclaimed.

What they both have in common is not wanting to spend a lot of time in the airport.

Broomes is headed home to New York to spend time with family.

“I was supposed to start early this morning, but my plane got delayed, so we were already here at 5:30 in the morning,” Broomes explained.

Stewart said so far, the weather is one obstacle travelers can cross off the list.

“Sometimes there are mechanical issues. So I just always remind folks to check with your airlines. Even though weather just looks gorgeous here in Jacksonville, your plane is coming from someplace else,” Stewart said.

Southwest Airlines canceled several hundred flights just a few weeks ago, followed by cancellations by American Airlines.

Both are now offering bonuses to encourage their staff to work this holiday season.

Travelers are hoping for the best, so they can finally get to the family and the food they’ve been waiting for all year.

“It’s not a Ghanaian Thanksgiving without jollof and fried rice. It has to be there!” exclaimed Mensah.

It’s all about the seafood for Broomes. “The seafood salad, the seafood dressing and the seafood macaroni and cheese.”

As a reminder, Stewart said masks are still required in the airport and on the airlines.

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The airport also has sanitizing stations.

Also, a lot of areas have gone touchless, which you will notice when you move through the checkpoint and when you’re checking in and checking your luggage.