HARRISBURG, Pa. — Hours before Thanksgiving Eve, Harrisburg International Airport or HIA and Lancaster Train Station have a distinct look this year. For one, travelers are wearing masks. Second, the amount of people traveling is noticeably different.
"Definitely on the second one a majority of the flight was empty -- 15 people max," said Sean Whitley of Illinois.
"There wasn't a lot of people like I was expecting," said Carmen of San Antonio Texas.
"It's public transportation, and it's harder to get people on the train when there are stay at home orders and restrictions," explained Beth Toll, a spokesperson for Amtrak.
On pace with national trends, Toll says Amtrak is seeing a huge drop in the number of travelers.
Last year around Thanksgiving, Lancaster Train Station saw more than 27,000 customers come through its doors.
Harrisburg saw a little more than 25,000.
Currently, Toll says Amtrak is seeing about 25 percent of those numbers. She describes the impact as devastating.
"It's definitely been -- it has taken a devastating impact on our ridership. It's the nature of it. It is public transportation, and it's harder to get people on the trail when there is stay at home orders and different restrictions," explained Toll.
Leading up to March, Toll says Amtrak had the best ridership in its history. It also received unprecedented feedback from customers.
Amtrak plans to work with the future Biden Administration. President and CEO Bill Flynn released the following statement:
“Amtrak looks forward to working with President-elect Biden and Congress. To get the economy moving and help Amtrak and our employees through this unprecedented situation, Congress must act now on pandemic relief and economic stimulus funding which enables Amtrak to recall furloughed employees, restore service frequency on long-distance and state-supported routes, and make investments that will advance critical capital projects such as bridges and tunnels on the Northeast Corridor and new equipment, infrastructure improvements and major station upgrades throughout our network.
“As we look to the future, expanded Amtrak service is essential to decarbonizing our transportation network, which generates roughly 28% of the U.S. annual carbon emissions. With cars and trucks responsible for nearly 82% of those emissions, we need passenger rail alternatives throughout the nation. As we enter our 50th year of service, we stand ready to play an important role in helping our nation recover and grow for the future.”
For people who plan to travel by train:
- Toll says it's important to book ahead of time.
- She recommends downloading the Amtrak app; it's a contact free way of traveling, and you can see what percent capacity each train is at.
- Travelers must wear face masks and are asked to practice social distancing.
Harrisburg International Airport is seeing fewer people too.
"People are canceling trips, but how many, I'm not sure," said Scott Miller, a spokesman for HIA. "The industry is really struggling right now. When you're operating at 35% of last year, it's very difficult for airlines to even come close to breaking even. They're all still burning millions of dollars every day."
Many of the people who are flying are taking the virus seriously.
"I did hear I had to have a negative test to enter Pennsylvania. I just wanted to be safe. You have to be safe. I have type one diabetes, not only do I have to be safe, I have to be safer," added Carmen.
"What Vermont was telling our college to do was that we had to test before leaving out of state to go back -- to make sure we were [COVID-19] negative," said Myron Prograis of Mechanicsburg.
Prograis waited with his mom Daniela for his brother Jeremie to come home from Citadel Military College in South Carolina.
"He had to quarantine for two weeks before he can arrive home," explained Daniela Rickell. "He is healthy; he doesn't have any symptoms of COVID."
FOX43 asked Miller what the trickle down effect is of so few people flying this year.
"Trickle down effect is we are seeing a lot of part time or full time jobs here who lost them," explained Miller. "The one area that is booming right now is the cargo business. We're setting almost records on a monthly basis on cargo coming out of the airport because everyone is doing things online."
Miller says there are a few things people should know before they fly:
- Show up at least an hour early to the airport as many people are waiting too long and being blocked from their flight.
- It's important to check what items are allowed by TSA.
- TSA is allowing one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces per passenger in carry-on bags until further notice.
- Pennsylvania's Secretary of Health issued an order requiring anyone who visits from another state to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to entering the commonwealth.
- If someone cannot get a test or chooses not to, they must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Pennsylvania.
- Pennsylvanians visiting other states are required to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to their return to the commonwealth, or to quarantine for 14 days upon return to Pennsylvania. This does NOT apply to people who commute to and from another state for work or medical treatment.
- This order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, November 20.
- View the Order of the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health for Mitigation Relating to Travel.