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Leisure travel has been for the summer, but still under pre-pandemic levels. (Claire Partain/Austonia)

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport saw a steady stream of travelers over Labor Day weekend as leisure travel to and from the city continued at a strong rate despite the now months-long rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Bryce Dubee, a public information officer at the airport, said that while travel has not reached the record level set in 2019, it has stabilized at 2018 levels—fueled by leisure travelers' desire to see family and friends and vacation. Across the country, airlines have rehired staff while travelers have dealt with airport security and flight delays and steep increases in ticket prices.

"The trend this summer has been a very strong recovery," he said.

That was apparent over Labor Day weekend. From Thursday through Monday, the airport hosted some 110,000 outbound travelers. On Friday, traditionally the busiest day of Labor Day weekend-related travel, more travelers flew out of Austin than did on the same day in 2019.

Though airport officials do not yet have access to complete traveler summer numbers, Dubee said that there is no evidence to indicate an appreciable drop in traveler numbers since the onset of the Delta variant-fueled resurgence of COVID-19 cases that began at the beginning of the summer.

Part of that, Dubee said, is that barriers to international travel are seeing more people travel domestically—with cities like Austin seeing a relative uptick in traffic.

(Claire Partain/Austonia)

But fall could be a harder season for the air travel industry than the summer was.

The rate of leisure travel in the U.S. has recovered at a much faster rate than that of business travel, with many office workers still working from home and business conferences and related events taking place online.

"We're anticipating that there will be a slowdown that happens every calendar year—summer is over, kids go back to school—and with that continued slower recovery on the business traveler front, we do anticipate that the September slowdown might be a bit more significant than it would be if it was a non-COVID year," he said.

The federal mask mandate for U.S. airports will be in place at least through the conclusion of this calendar year, with President Biden set to announce a new multi-pronged plan to combat the spread of COVID-19 as much of the country braces for the potential danger of the winter months.

Dubee said that while airlines do not yet know what the winter holiday season will hold, travelers should do their best to plan ahead as the travel industry continues to grapple with the fallouts of the pandemic.


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