Gov. Phil Scott has all but promised Vermonters that by July 4, life will be much as it was before the pandemic — at least when it comes to crossing state borders.
Burlington International Airport is ready. On Wednesday, the airfield announced its first direct connection with Dallas, starting on July 3. And on April 7, the airport announced a direct connection with Boston, starting April 29. It will be the first time BTV has provided direct service to and from Boston since 2008.
“There seems to be a lot of pent-up demand,” said Gene Richards, the airport’s director of aviation.
BTV has seen a massive dip in passengers during the pandemic, particularly before the state started vaccinating residents in mid-December. Before COVID-19 came along, about 10,000 passengers came through the airport each week, a number that rose to 15,000 in the summers, said Richards. During the darkest days of 2020, that dwindled to as few as 800 a week, he said.
These days, with direct connections between Burlington and 10 cities, the airport is seeing about 5,000 passengers each week, according to Richards.
Citing the governor’s prediction for a return to semi-normal — and recent news that the state is now about 30 percent fully vaccinated — Richards expects traffic to be back to about 80 percent of normal in July. He noted that COVID-19 is still suppressing travel to some critical destinations, such as Toronto and Montréal. The border has been closed to most travelers for more than a year.
“Canada is still having a real tough time; they are quarantined, they have curfews,” he said. “So that will probably not be part of the mix in July unless the vaccine increases there.”
Richards has long worked to increase connections between Burlington and other cities. For him, the Boston flight from the San Francisco-based Boutique Air is a triumph. It will use an eight-seat jet for its once-a-day flights.
“We’ve been trying for the last 10 years to get it, and nobody seemed to want to do it,” Richards said. "They’re concerned that it’s so close that most people would drive. They say it’s a three-hour drive; it’s actually really not. It’s four or five depending on whether you run into traffic where you are going. And then coming home, it could be a whole lot worse.”
The Dallas/Forth Worth flight on American Airlines will be available once a week, on Saturdays between July 3 and November 6.
Richards said 17,000 people flew to Dallas from Burlington in 2019, making it the 16th-most-popular destination for Burlington fliers.
The Lake Champlain Chamber has been working with Richards to get airlines to try more Burlington flights. Direct flights help the convention business, said Chamber president Cathy Davis.
“If someone is planning a company meeting and they need to fly people in from different parts of the country, that’s one thing they will look for in choosing their location: How easily they can get everybody to the site,” she said.
Richards’ next goal: Direct service between Burlington and the Florida cities of Fort Lauderdale or Tampa.
“Florida seems to be a popular area,” he said. He noted that American Airlines and Boutique Air will pull their flights if people don’t use them.
“We encourage people to support the air service if they’re vaccinated,” he said.