Boris Tsang/Sun Senior Photographer

Ithaca Tompkins International Airport in March, 2020. This spring, the airport is gearing up for more flights as COVID restrictions ease.

May 6, 2021

Ithaca Airport Anticipates Increased Travel as Health Restrictions Ease

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As pandemic travel restrictions ease and students plan to depart for summer, more flights are operating out of the Ithaca Tompkins International Airport than ever before this year. 

Several commercial airlines are looking to offer more flights through contracts with the Ithaca airport, according to manager Mike Hall ’68. Following a year of limited flights and state travel restrictions, the airport plans to reactivate and expand its offerings for the summer.

Air travel was one of the most affected industries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with air travel declining nationwide. In March, the Ithaca airport received $3 million in federal contributions to keep the airport running. 

Airport operations rely significantly on student and faculty travel. Although the University opened campus this year, Cornell severely restricted travel to contain the virus. 

The airport currently offers flights from American Airlines and Delta. There are two American Airlines arrivals and two departure flights each day, while Delta has only one arrival and one departure flight daily. American provides service to Charlotte and Delta to Detroit. 

With Ithaca air travel increasing and state and Cornell travel requirements relaxing, United Airlines plans to add two arrival and two departure flights beginning June 3, according to Hall. Delta also projects they will increase service in early August to three arrival flights and three departure flights. 

As of April 15, fully vaccinated students can travel domestically and return to campus without entering a quarantine period as of April 20, allowing for easier student travel.

Few international flights currently enter and depart from the Ithaca airport due to a lack of demand, according to Hall. The University announced on April 27 that Cornell-related international travel may resume on June 1. 

As of Wednesday, more than half of the  on-campus population has reported being fully vaccinated. Now, some students said they feel more comfortable traveling. 

“I think now that the number [of COVID-19 cases] are starting to go down and have been down for a bit, and more people are vaccinated, I feel more comfortable flying and being with my family after coming home from college,” said Athena Borca ’24, who plans to use Ithaca airport to return home to Milwaukee. 

As each airline determines which regional locations will be the most lucrative for them and schedules flights accordingly, the schedule at the Ithaca airport remains in constant flux, according to Hall, especially as COVID-19 cases and pandemic travel regulations continue to change. 

In March, the Ithaca airport only ran one Delta flight and one American flight flying in and out of the Ithaca airport. Hall estimated that there were only 80 seats available then. Currently, he estimated that there are 150 seats total, an approximation almost double the amount available just a few months ago. 

With United flights restarting in early June, the number of seats available could reach 250. However, it is nearly impossible to predict how things will look in the future as the pandemic consistently changes. 

The expanded flight schedule may help students who’ve struggled to secure an affordable flight home in the past year.

Daniela Zurbaran ’24 uses the Ithaca airport out of convenience to catch a connecting flight home to Miami through Charlotte. 

“There’s only one flight that goes from Ithaca to Charlotte a day, so they get really expensive at the end,” Zurbaran said. “So now I’m trying to see which ones are still open.”  

Hall said the flight schedule is under the jurisdiction of individual airlines. Individual airline companies are handling recurrent training for pilots to ensure that decreased air time does not impact performance.  

“The airlines have a massive challenge of getting pilots recurrent, flight attendants recurrent, and aircrafts ready to fly again and that’s the capability side of the equation, the airlines being able to provide seats,” Hall said.