CLEVELAND, OH — Newly-released numbers show the staggering impact coronavirus had on travel at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in April. According to city figures, Hopkins saw a 96% decrease in the number of passengers compared to April, 2019 and a drop of 400,000 passengers compared to March, 2020.
According to the city, 30,140 passengers flew in or out of Hopkins in April. In March, that number was 430,292. February's total was 709,351 passengers according to the airport.
Travelers said they noticed a big difference.
"Completely a ghost town," said Chris Pressely as he waited for his flight back to Houston, Texas. "There's no one anywhere around here."
"They've never been this empty," said Tanisha Midcalf as she waited in baggage claim. "Like never."
Year-to-date, airport numbers show total passengers at Hopkins are down almost 40% compared to 2019.
"April numbers for Hopkins are going to look like they've been hit by the ugly stick several times," said Henry Harteveldt, President of the travel industry research firm Atmosphere Research Group. "When you're told not to travel, you stay home, and Cleveland has stayed home. So has the rest of the country."
Fewer passengers also meant fewer airplanes in the sky. The moth-balled Terminal D at Hopkins looks like a parking lot with planes sitting empty at Hopkins.
The number of flights touching down at Hopkins is down 23% compared to a year ago, according to city figures.
"It's very possible, and very likely that some routes that may have existed pre-COVID, may not be back at Hopkins for awhile," said Harteveldt.
The drop in air travelers comes as consultants hired by the city prepare a new master plan for the airport. The $4.5 million blueprint for the future is expected early next year.
But Harteveldt doesn't expect any major projects at the airport anytime soon.
"No airport manager wants to be the one who's accused of building a white elephant project," said Harteveldt.
He said it could be at least three years until air travel returns to what it was before the pandemic.
In the meantime, welcome home hugs take place in nearly-empty terminals where, at times, cleaning crews seem to outnumber travelers.
"This is odd," said Patrick Burkhardt, who flew into Cleveland from Korea. "Eerie."
COVID-19 now threatens to ground more than a decade of growth at Hopkins.
"2020 is not going to be an up year for Hopkins," predicted Harteveldt. "The question is, how much of a down year will it be."
The city declined a request for an interview, but said in a statement that recently the airport saw a "slick uptick" in the number of passengers at the airport.
Last month, Hopkins learned it will receive more than $46 million in federal stimulus money specifically aimed at keeping airports open during the coronavirus crisis.