As the Lehigh Northampton Airport Authority readies itself for a return to air travel, it’s launching a new “Fly Safe with ABE” campaign to let travelers know the airport is taking all the safety precautions it can to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
With ongoing concerns over large crowds, Executive Director Tom Stoudt said he expects more travelers to be drawn to smaller, regional airports, like LVIA versus larger hubs in Philadelphia and Newark.
“A smaller facility means less people. Crowds are smaller and some people have told us they find that appealing,” he said.
The safety campaign will be promoted by a new character created for the task, Abe the Pilot. Abe, who has an extensive back story on Lehigh Valley International Airport’s web page that Stoudt admits may resemble his own history, will be used on more than 800 signs posted around the airport to remind travelers about social distancing, hand sanitation and other airport safety information.
“His first assignment is getting out the critical information on how we can fly safely and other travel tips,” Stoudt said. Abe even has his own cellphone that travelers can call or text to leave comments, suggestions or ask questions about any of the new procedures in place at the airport.
While Abe the Pilot may be a fun way for the airport authority to personalize the new regulations at a time when people have heightened concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus, his message is very serious.
“Obviously safety is always at the forefront of us as an airport but [COVID-19] is adding another level,” Stoudt said.
To maintain a healthy and safe facility, the airport is implementing such measures as an upgraded disinfection program and installing anti-microbial film on high-touch areas like doors and elevator buttons.
Plexiglas barriers have also been installed at all counters and concessions. But, he said, many of the safety procedures involve the participation of travelers, which is why the friendly signage is there to remind people to use hand gel stations, keep six-feet apart and always wear a mask while inside the airport.
He noted that the TSA has made some changes to its policies to help reduce the person-to-person contact needed at security points. For example, customers are asked to scan their own ticket. Place items like keys or wallets in travel bags so that they can be x-rayed at once rather than individually handled and keep food separate for inspection.
The TSA has waived the 3.4 ounce limit on containers of sanitizing hand gel that can be taken onboard.
Because it may be difficult for travelers to obtain a fresh bottle of hand sanitizer at their destination, people can now take up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer on the plane. Other liquid restrictions remain in place.
Stoudt expects an uptick in travel now that Lehigh and Northampton counties have entered the yellow phase of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan. Iin February, immediately following a series of upgrades at the airport including the adding of an Allegiant Airlines crew base, the airport was seeing about 1,600 travelers per day.
By mid-April he said that dropped to as little as 40 travelers per day.
Now that restrictions are lifting, travelers are returning. On one day next week there are 1,000 seats booked on flights out of LVIA. “We’re still in the yellow, but people can travel and we’re seeing that for sure,” he said.
For those concerned about traveling in the planes, Stoudt said he’s been assured that airlines have also stepped up measures to keep surfaces and the air clean. He said airlines flying out of LVIA all use the same type of HEPA filters that hospital use and that air comes from above, pushing any aerosoled microbes to the ground where they are passed through those filters and mixed with 50% outside air and recirculated every two to three minutes.
They are also using sanitizing devices such as electrostatic foggers to “get into the nooks and crannies” while cleaning surfaces.
“I think they do an excellent job of keeping the air onboard healthy,” he said.
That’s all part of the “Fly Safe with ABE” message the authority is promoting.