On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory recommending residents of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut refrain from non-essential domestic travel for two weeks because of the high transmission of the coronavirus in the area. Days later, Spirit Airlines said it was suspending all flights to and from those states including airports at Niagara Falls and Plattsburgh. Officials in New York’s North Country say the temporary loss of flights is not a surprise.
Three airlines currently service the Plattsburgh International Airport: Spirit Airlines, Allegiant and SkyWest/United. Responding to the CDC travel advisory, Spirit is suspending air service at LaGuardia, Newark, Hartford, Niagara Falls, and Plattsburgh until at least May 4th.
Republican Congresswoman Elise Stefanik of New York’s 21st district says limiting non-essential air travel is a nationwide issue and her goal is to provide financial support to the local airports. “We will be working with the Plattsburgh airport to, or the Clinton County Airport, to make available information regarding grants and funds that were included in the CARES Act. We will work with the Clinton County legislators but in terms of the dollar value to the airports and the loss that's going to cause we want to work with all the rural airports in the district to apply for those grants that I just voted in support of in the CARES Act.”
On March 18th President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the U.S.-Canada border would temporarily close except for essential travel. The Plattsburgh International Airport advertises itself as Montreal’s U.S. airport and the majority of its travelers are from Quebec.
North Country Chamber President Garry Douglas says there is less impact from Spirit Airline’s suspension of flights at this point because most of the airport’s customer base had already stopped coming. “People have virtually stopped traveling. Some 80% or more of the people on planes flying in and out of Plattsburgh are from Quebec. They can't come to the airport right now.”
Plattsburgh International Airport Manager Christopher Kreig says airports across upstate New York are reporting a decrease in passenger traffic in March between 90 and 94 percent. “Airport’s still open because we have other customers, other people that use the airport. We have U.S. Customs and Border Protection that operates out of the airport. We still have cargo operations. There is still general aviation traffic that comes in and out. Now granted that's been reduced also. Still have military traffic. So we still are conducting operations and we still have an airport to run.”
The airport derives substantial revenues from the passenger traffic. Clinton County Legislature Minority Leader Democrat Bobby Hall says they will need help from the federal government. “We are looking for an awful loss at the airport due to the no flights, you know, and all the parking revenue. And we're not renting any cars. The restaurant’s closed up. So they want to break in their rent and we can't blame them. County revenue is going to be terrible. There's some money in this first stimulation package of grants we believe will be around $500,000 which is going to help. But it's definitely not going to be enough. So it's going to be a struggle.”
As of April 1st the Clinton County Health Department reported 24 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one probable case.