We can't wait until we're cleared for take-off on that long-awaited vacation after this pandemic is over, and neither can airports. Until then, we are being discouraged from taking big trips and gathering in groups, so it's no surprise the airline industry is taking among the biggest hits caused by the pandemic.

Planes are grounded at numbers rarely seen, according to a story in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. It points to just how rough it has been at the Eastern Iowa Airport (CID), reporting that they've seen their biggest decline in at least a quarter-century. 2020 saw just over 673,000 passengers, a 53 percent drop in passenger levels over 2019, and for the first time in 6 years, less than 1 million. It's even lower than the most recent lowest total of 829,760 in 1996.

The airport is eager to start getting more travelers back through its gates, with the implementation of their "Travel Well" program. It features new COVID-19 safety protocols, and after delays since last summer, it will finally get off the ground next Monday. But officials say that even with that program in place, the losses are already projected to be so damaging that CID director Marty Lenss, while hoping for a quicker turnaround, is preparing for a recovery lasting four years. Lenss even implied a slower rebound than the immediate post-9/11 era.

At CID, they are simply in "maintain" mode for now like their counterparts and the multitude of other industries facing challenges brought on by the pandemic. They've even put the next phase of ongoing renovation on hold and placed a freeze on employee wages, although staff layoffs are not imminent, according to Lenss. Existing job openings are being filled much more slowly than normal.

They've budgeted out the $22.8 million in CARES Act funding they received in 2020 to get them through that anticipated 4-year rebound, and Lenss said they will soon see more help from the recently passed stimulus bill.

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