There are comparatively few passengers at MSP Airport due to COVID-19, but hundreds of airport workers are still on site each day, providing essential services and staying safe with social distancing and other measures.
“Air transportation is an essential service and plays a key role in moving personnel and equipment critical in the fight against the pandemic to the places they need to be,” said Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) CEO Brian Ryks. “Even with the volume of passengers down 95 percent, our organization still needs to work with our public- and private-sector partners to ensure flight operations continue.”
MAC employees vital to the daily operation of the airport include everyone from the police and fire departments to divisions that keep the two terminals and the airfield operating -- and ready to be utilized to their full capacity when passengers return.
Also still present each day at the airport are airline ticket agents, flight crews, airport concessions employees, cleaning contractors, air traffic controllers, security screening officers, customs officials, and a wide variety of other workers who keep air service running smoothly and ensure travelers have what they need.
For almost all of those employees, their daily routines have changed significantly. A few examples follow.
Touch-point cleaning emphasized
One modification that happened in March included a new cleaning protocol for MSP’s janitorial staff.
Touch-point cleaning is a high priority now throughout the two terminals, with attention to surfaces including door handles, directory screens, handrails, elevator buttons, locks on restroom stalls and courtesy phones.
At the MAC facilities office at Terminal 1, staff are now on a rotating schedule to reduce the number of people in the office. Repairs are requested by phone or email, and keys and paperwork are passed back and forth through a mail slot in the office door, which is kept closed.
“We’re going to keep things going and keep rolling so when more people do start traveling again, MSP will be ready to go,” said Shannon Gale, the MAC’s assistant manager of facilities at Terminal 1.
Throughout the terminals, a teamwork approach has kept operations running smoothly, including the staff at the MAC’s Energy Management Center, which handles climate control in MAC facilities and is on site 24/7.
“Everybody’s been on the same page, working to keep employees and travelers safe while continuing to maintain services,” said Scott Skramstad, assistant director of operations at Terminal 1.
Field maintenance and other departments find ways to social distance
The MAC’s field maintenance department has just over 100 full-time employees who keep the airfield, roadways and parking ramps in top shape, and they got creative to ensure social distancing. That started with modifications of shift schedules to keep workers spread out.
“We also set up five different break spaces, and the break times are staggered,” said Mark Rudolph, manager of field maintenance planning. Maintenance vehicles are limited to just the driver, and touch points in each vehicle are cleaned at the start of each shift.
MAC mechanics service vehicles in the field maintenance facility on 28th Avenue, and the driver is required to disinfect surfaces before the shop supervisor brings any vehicle inside for repair.
The MAC’s airside operations office also remains staffed, coordinating activity on the airfield.
At the MAC’s trades department -- which has 49 employees working as painters, carpenters, plumbers and electricians – staff are still out in buildings making repairs on a daily basis.
“We’re using texts, emails and phone calls to communicate our daily work orders instead of morning crew meetings,” said Adrian Kregness, manager of the trades department.
Carpenters have installed automatic towel dispensers in restrooms in several MAC facilities to reduce touch points, and they’ve also installed Plexiglas sneeze barriers on the MAC Badging Office’s service counter.
Working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, MAC carpenters have also installed similar Plexiglas barriers in the Federal Inspection Services stations at both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. Plexiglas barriers are also planned at the passenger information booth on Terminal 1’s tram level and the booth at Terminal 2.
At Terminal 2, MAC operations staff work single-person shifts with minimal overlap, while also maintaining appropriate social distance.
“We’re working with partners and stakeholders to make sure the travelers who pass through the terminal still receive the services they need,” said Dan Foster, assistant director of operations.
“We’re also looking forward, toward the recovery, and thinking about how things might function differently when traffic picks up again."