After an anxious flight to Texas for a business trip, Orange County artist Patrice Miller vowed to stay clear of airports and airlines for the foreseeable future.
It made her nervous to see passengers on her flight from John Wayne Airport to McAllen International Airport seated with no physical distancing, many refusing to wear masks.
But she said she was most unnerved about her hourlong stopover at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where travelers mingled together around eateries and crowded into retail stores, about half of them not wearing masks.
"I'm going to another conference next week, but I'm driving," Miller said.
Airport operators across the country say such dread by airline passengers has helped push air travel demand down by nearly 65% compared with last year. In response, they have launched an effort to overhaul the way Americans fly in hopes of reducing the risk of spreading the coronavirus and encouraging travelers to take to the skies in pre-pandemic numbers again.
Airport executives have already come up with a handful of ideas for overhauling the flying experience, including performing airport health screenings, encouraging passengers to reserve times to go through security screening to reduce crowding, and using technology to dramatically reduce the need for travelers to have face-to-face contact with airline gate agents.
"It all comes back to making the traveling public feel safe and implementing tested solutions that make a meaningful difference to the health of the traveling public," said Carter Morris, executive vice president of the American Assn. of Airport Executives, which represents nearly 875 airports in the U.S.
The trade group has teamed up with 12 of the nation's largest airports and several technology and engineering companies to form the Airport Consortium on Consumer Trust Program, which seeks "to restore passenger confidence in commercial air travel" through deployment of new technologies and procedures.
Rather than wait for the federal government to recommend changes to the nation's airports, members of the consortium said they decided to take the initiative. The kickoff meeting for the group took place Oct. 30.
Although some members of the consortium say they are optimistic that a few ideas can be adopted within weeks or months, huge hurdles remain, such as getting cooperation from the various state, federal and local government bodies involved in operating, regulating and funding the nation's largest airports.