Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Flights to and from Ithaca had many empty seats following the announcement that Cornell was suspending classes.

March 15, 2020

Planes Arrive in Ithaca With Empty Seats, and Airlines Field Droves of Calls to Reschedule Tickets

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Just two hours after Cornell announced that classes would be suspended Friday at 5 p.m., airplanes left Ithaca only partially full, with customers either canceling their tickets or simply not showing up for their flight at all.

Airlines that fly in and out of the Ithaca Tompkins International Airport — American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines — have received a barrage of calls from customers hoping to reschedule their travel plans, since President Martha E. Pollack’s surprising Friday announcement, said Mike Hall ’86, director of the local airport. These airlines did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

Hall said that he had been informed by the Transportation Security Administration that the number of passengers on flights over the coming weekend is expected to drop by 20 percent. Yet, Hall was optimistic that a potential exodus of students could boost the numbers of passengers on flights.

“The longer this goes, the greater impact this has on the airport budget,” Hall said, adding that airport administrators do not expect to reduce the airport’s services, and no employees will be laid off.

The worse the situation gets, the more important airports become, Hall said. Closing the airport is out of the question.

“That’s not something we even think of,” Hall said. “For something like that to happen there would have to be an enormous meltdown of society.”

Hall said that in an emergency of this scale, transportation centers become crucial hubs for facilitating relief efforts.

“Our position here is to project determination and strength,” Hall said.

The private and charter flights department at the airport also have reason for concern as a result of the cancellation of high percentage of flights travelling through Ithaca over the next week, according to Amy Jacot, a customer service representative for private and charter flights at the airport.

“We’re going to lose a lot of business, we’re going to lose a lot of revenue,” Jacot said.

As of now, schedules and security procedures at the airport remain the same. In the last several weeks, airport facilities have been taking thorough sanitation precautions, such as wiping down surfaces with disinfectant spray, as well as posting signs around the premises discouraging international travel.

Hall, who is an Ithaca native and Air Force veteran, said he hasn’t dealt with a crisis of this scale since becoming airport director in 2018.

“It’s kind of like a warm spring day with a strong cold front coming from the west,” Hall said, of the crisis. “You know it’s going to rain, you just don’t know how badly.”