Ron DeSantis said New York stay-at-home order caused flights to Florida to spike. But did they?

Data from FlightAware does not show a spike in New York flights following that state’s stay-at-home order, despite what Gov. Ron DeSantis said.
Just two people cross the ticketing and check-in level of Tampa International Airport, Friday, March 27, 2020. Many people are avoiding travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Just two people cross the ticketing and check-in level of Tampa International Airport, Friday, March 27, 2020. Many people are avoiding travel due to the coronavirus pandemic. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times ]
Published April 1, 2020|Updated April 1, 2020

When New York issued its stay-at-home order amid the coronavirus crisis earlier this month, it caused a flood of New Yorkers to flee to the Sunshine State, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly said.

“As soon as that shelter in place order came down from the New York governor, man, the flights took off, people just got the heck out of dodge,” DeSantis said last week.

DeSantis has used that supposed spike in flights from the New York area as part of his rationale for requiring a 14-day quarantine of people from that area who come to Florida. He also used it as an argument in explaining his reticence to issue his own statewide stay-at-home order. (On Wednesday, facing increasing pressure, DeSantis finally did order one for Florida.)

It’s unclear exactly which numbers the governor has relied on in detailing that sudden influx of New Yorkers.

Data from FlightAware of incoming flights to the Orlando, Tampa, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Palm Beach airports shows the total number of incoming flights has dropped steeply compared to a few weeks ago, including flights from the New York City area.

That data does not show any major uptick in the number of flights coming from the New York area following New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s March 20 announcement that he was issuing a stay-at-home order for all the residents in his state.

The number of flights to the five Florida airports from three major airports servicing the New York City area — LaGuardia, John F. Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International — began to decline around March 20 and have continued falling since then.

On March 20, 158 flights from those three New York City-area airports arrived to the five Florida airports.

A week later, the number of flights had fallen to 58.

During a March 24 news conference, DeSantis said New York’s stay-at-home order caused the number of flights from that area to Florida to suddenly increase from 20 to “120, then 160, then yesterday they did 197 flights” before the numbers of flights began dropping again.

Those numbers are not reflected in the FlightAware data. The governor’s spokeswoman has not responded to emails sent Tuesday and Wednesday asking for clarification of what data DeSantis used.

The FlightAware data does not include information on how many people were on each flight.

Related: Who's to blame for Florida's coronavirus problems? DeSantis points to other states

DeSantis has on a number of occasions used New York as a sort of foil to Florida’s efforts to contain the coronavirus. Noting that New York City is currently the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in the U.S., he has said he’s worried that travelers from that area could “seed” the virus in Florida amid his state’s efforts to get its infections under control.

DeSantis has said his measures to require quarantines for some travelers came after he had failed in urging President Donald Trump to restrict domestic air travel from states with widespread coronavirus infections.

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Related: Huge amounts of New Yorkers flocking to Florida, Gov. DeSantis says in refusing lock down

It’s likely that DeSantis’ orders, which focused on people arriving from the New York area as well as those from Louisiana, did deter some people from traveling to Florida, but it’s unclear how much.

What is clear is that commercial air traffic overall to Florida has fallen off dramatically as awareness has grown across the globe about the threat of the coronavirus.

Yet flights still continue.

According to flight tracking site, commercial flights decreased 55 percent globally in the final week of March compared to March 2019.

At Tampa International Airport, 310 flights arrived on March 14, according to the FlightAware data. Two weeks later, on March 28, the number of flights arriving had fallen 46 percent to 166.

Flights out of Florida have similarly fallen but still continue.

On Tuesday, a Tampa man was arrested in Hawaii for allegedly violating that state’s mandatory quarantine order for incoming travelers, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

DeSantis’ spokeswoman did not respond to a question about how the governor felt about Floridians traveling to other states.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Langston Taylor contributed to this report.

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