Editor's note: This story is part of the 2021 "Essential to Jamestown" special edition of The Jamestown Sun. The annual Progress Edition features stories on essential workers, agencies and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Management of the Jamestown Regional Airport began planning for the coronavirus pandemic before the first case was reported in the area, according to Katie Hemmer, director of the facility.
"We actually started implementing things in February 2020," she said. "When the regulations came in we were able to add signage almost immediately. At the time those things were implemented, travel numbers were dropping because of the travel restrictions so it wasn't difficult."
Since the start of the pandemic, precautions at the airport have included hand sanitizing stations, signage urging people to practice social distancing and other precautions and special electrostatic cleaning equipment that sanitizes all surfaces of an item, not just top or visible surfaces.
"The airline added similar equipment for the airplanes," Hemmer said, referring to the electrostatic cleaners.
Guidance for the precautions came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that published a guideline of safety precautions for airports during the pandemic. Additional information came from the Transportation Safety Administration and local health officials, Hemmer said.
The reduced number of travelers prompted United Airlines to reduce the number of flights to Jamestown early in the pandemic.
"We were impacted by schedule changes," Hemmer said. "It was good we went back to the pre-pandemic schedules as of July."
Flight operations by United Airlines never shut down completely but were limited to one flight per day. The lowest boardings at the airport were in April 2020 when 41 passengers boarded commercial flights at Jamestown.
The airport retained its entire staff through the pandemic, although a winter with little snow has prompted cuts to some of the part-time staff through this winter.
Hemmer said none of the airport staff contracted COVID-19, although some airline and TSA staff did become ill. Officials did not believe their exposure was work-related, although it was impossible to confirm the source of the virus.
After a year, the number of travelers utilizing the Jamestown Regional Airport is starting to climb from the pandemic lows.
"We were about 50% for boardings," Hemmer said. "We started December with a small increase, January was about normal pandemic numbers but we've been better again in February and at the start of March."
Jamestown Mayor Dwaine Heinrich said the airport and commercial air carrier were important through the pandemic and will be more important as the economy recovers.
"This is a beneficial thing for Jamestown," he said. "As far as a community this size to have non-stop service to Denver where we connect to anyplace is a game changer."
The general aviation traffic at the Jamestown airport, mostly recreational and agricultural flights, was steady although charter flights are up across the country.
"We are happy United has been a good partner," Hemmer said. "We have the same number of flights and the same times so people can make connections."
Skywest, flying as United Express into Jamestown, was awarded a two-year extension to its Essential Air Service contract in July 2020. The airline provides flights to and from Denver where passengers can connect to national and international flights.
"Hopefully, when traveling resumes people will utilize the Jamestown Regional Airport and United," Hemmer said.
Those future travelers may notice some precautions still in place from the pandemic, she said.
"This whole thing has brought more awareness to the things we come in contact with," Hemmer said. "Some of these things we've learned how to incorporate these processes into our workflow."
Public areas, like airports, will likely see more touchless processes like picking up or dropping off baggage.
One little change that will likely continue, Hemmer said, was wastebaskets outside restroom doors allowing people to hold a towel in their hand while opening the door before disposing of the towel.
"Many of these types of precautions will continue," Hemmer said.