By Kassie Simmons | May 26, 2021 at 3:30 PM EDT – Updated May 27 at 8:06 AM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – Wilmington is opening back up to what you remember it being pre-pandemic as businesses stay open later, some ease mask requirements, and more people are out and about — and that goes for travel in and out of the ILM airport, too.
“It’s getting better every week,” said business traveler John Miller. “I traveled during the pandemic. Now, it’s getting a little bit easier. People take a little bit more awareness of what they’re doing, I think as the mask mandates start lifting — in the airport, hopefully soon, we’ll get back to normal travel by the end of the summer, I hope.”
Some traveling this weekend are still nervous about staying safe as they know that even though things are improving, the pandemic still isn’t completely over.
“I still see people wearing masks in places, which is great because it is respectful, but everyone’s definitely out and about already,” said one Wilmington woman. “We’ve seen that in the last week, everywhere we’ve gone.”
ILM airport officials say they have over 5,200 people booked to fly in and out of Wilmington. It’s more than what they’ve seen in the last year, but still fewer than the numbers recorded at ILM at this time in 2019.
“For the four-day holiday, Friday through Monday of last year for Memorial Day, we did a total of 1,215 passengers,” said operations manager Gary Taylor. “In 2019, the normal holiday pre-COVID, was 6,044.”
It’s a national trend too — air travel is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels — but despite the feeling of normalcy and the drop of mask mandates, you’ll still need to wear a mask on airport grounds.
“We’re still following all the CDC guidelines, cleaning the building more often than we were, disinfecting and all that,” said Taylor. “Obviously, the TSA — we still have the mask directive. Anywhere on airport property, you have to wear a mask. That’s inside the terminal, outside the terminal and on the aircraft.”
Some flyers still have concerns about the lack of social distancing as well.
“I was a tiny bit uncomfortable with that,” said a California man flying out of ILM on Wednesday. “I wish they were at least skipping the middle seat or something because I know that they aren’t with the rows.”
Those worries carry over to the terminals too, but ILM officials are confident they can safely accommodate the influx of travelers.
“Our new terminal expansion and that stuff will be operational, so there’ll be more space for everybody,” said Taylor. “Right now, space is limited, social distancing is difficult when you’re in a cramped area, so when the new part of the terminal opens up and our numbers are up a little more, maybe, it’ll look a lot better.”
ILM hasn’t had any issues with passengers refusing to wear masks, but passengers say some of their fellow travelers had to be reminded to put their mask back on after they took it off to eat or drink on the plane.
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