Keys Shuttle closes; future in limbo

Local airport transport service closes, citing COVID challenges

Keys Shuttle vans, like the one pictured, provide service locally to and from airports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. KEYS SHUTTLE

Furloughs loom as major airline companies respond to low passenger counts from an ongoing pandemic, not to mention federal aid that’s soon to wane for the industry if Congress doesn’t act. Marginal flyers means less traffic going through major air hubs, and locally, it’s affecting one transportation company so much that the service had to close — its future in limbo. 

Keys Shuttle, like many businesses, reopened and resumed when checkpoints in Key Largo came down on June 1. Between flying fears and positive cases in the Keys exploding, not many were calling the shuttle for pickup. With sales low, Keys Shuttle owner Raul Cisneros was forced to close on Aug. 8. 

“People just stopped calling and the numbers dropped,” he told the Keys Weekly. “We were down to under 20% of what we normally do. 

Providing door-to-door shuttle service from the Florida Keys to Miami and Fort Lauderdale international airports, Cisneros said the number of those calling for reservations was somewhat sufficient to stay open at first. But business wasn’t even half of what they would normally conduct when the airline industry would be flowing with passengers. The service also provides transportation in the Keys for dinner outings, weddings and other special events. 

Vans usually run to and from the airports six times a day, seven days a week. Cisneros said daily trips were cut back to three once the shuttle service came back online, and even that was too much for the little demand they were seeing. 

“I can’t lose that much money for a long period. We’re going into September and October,” he said. “That is just not enough to keep it going.”

Airline passenger statistics from the major South Florida airports show decreases of more than 70% since the pandemic hit. Just over 627,000 passengers flew in and out of the Miami International Airport for the month of June, per the most recent data by the airport. A year before, more than 3.7 million people had arrived and departed from the air hub. It accounts for an 83% drop in passenger numbers between the years. 

Domestic flights out of Miami International Airport for June were down 71% while international flights dropped by 96%. 

Around 11.4 million passengers have flown in and out of the Miami airport since the start of the year. Compare that to last year’s count of 23.4 million passengers in that same period, and counts are down 51.4%. 

At Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, around 936,000 passengers arrived and departed in July — a 70% drop from the year before when 3.1 million flew in and out. June passenger counts totaled 601,140, an 80% drop from the year before, when just over 3 million were arriving and departing from the airport. 

Just over 10.3 million have utilized the Fort Lauderdale airport since the start of the year. That’s down 53% from the year before when approximately 22.3 million passengers were flying to and from the airport. 

The future of the airline industry is up in the air. With passengers either feeling uneasy flying or finding alternative modes of transportation, services like Keys Shuttle remain in question. Cisneros said he’s hoping to resume the shuttle service sometime toward the end of November near Thanksgiving. 

“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “I’ll have to take a look at how the airlines are doing because they are the ones who feed customers to us. As long as people are not traveling by air, there’s not much we can do.”

Jim McCarthy
Jim McCarthy is one of the many Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 4-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, hockey, mixed martial arts and golf. He also enjoys time with family and his new baby boy, Lucas, who arrived Oct. 4, 2022.