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Record number of summer air travelers predicted for New York City area

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A record-breaking crush of more than 40 million passengers is expected this summer at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports, up roughly 5% from last year, as pent-up demand and cheaper airfares have fueled a nationwide travel bonanza, local and federal officials said Thursday.

Technological advances, such as a new touchless pre-check system that uses facial recognition to verify credentials, will likely move travelers through at a speedier pace in the summer of 2024. But a shortage of airline workers and air traffic controllers, combined with huge crowds and typical summer weather delays, could give déjà vu to passengers who remember the widespread delays and cancellations that marred the summer 2023 travel season.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty could see “over 40 million passengers, a record,” said Anthony Mero, LaGuardia’s general manager, following a news conference Thursday at the Queens airport.

“The numbers are growing,” Mero added. “A big travel season is ahead and we really feel prepared.”

The numbers indicate that air travel in the metropolitan area has rebounded — and then some — since the pandemic.

Last year marked the busiest on record for the three airports, with a total of 144 million travelers, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the facilities.

And that surge has continued into this year, with 32.4 million travelers flying in and out of the airports during the first three months of 2024, another record, Port Authority data shows.

In each of the first four months of 2024, air travel at LaGuardia has exceeded 2023 numbers by an average of 4.5%, Mero said.

That trend is expected to continue Memorial Day weekend — the unofficial start of summer — when air travel at LaGuardia alone could spike by nearly 5% compared to 2023, said Robert Duffy, the airport’s Transportation Security Agency federal security director.

“We will be staffed up to handle whatever the numbers are,” Duffy said.

The story is much the same throughout the country.

The TSA said it expects to screen more than 270 million passengers nationwide this summer, a 6% jump from the summer of 2023.

And the agency anticipates hitting another milestone sometime over the summer months — clearing more than 3 million passengers for flights on a single day, eclipsing the current record of 2.9 million.

“Seven of the 10 busiest days ever in TSA history have occurred within the last 12 months,” said agency Administrator David Pekoske. “And two of the 10 busiest days occurred last week. That should give you a sense for how busy we expect it to be.”

Rebecca Spicer, a spokesperson for Airlines for America, a trade association representing leading U.S. airlines, said the demand for air travel should not come as a surprise.

“Airfares are at historic lows when you look at inflationary changes,” Spicer said. “There’s more choice and variety for consumers to pick from so they can find the right options that fit their needs and their desires and their family plans.”

The Memorial Day weekend will be the busiest at airports in the metropolitan area and across the country since 2005, when 3.64 million passengers got back in the air as the travel industry finally rebounded from the 9/11 attacks, according to a post on AAA’s website. Holiday airfares for the weekend should be “comparable to last year,” according to the AAA post, with booking data showing “a 1% to 2% increase in prices for domestic flights.”

Air travel experts advised passengers to arrive early for flights, particularly when flying during peak times, to follow TSA guidelines and to avoid verbal and physical confrontations with airline and airport staff.

Pekoske also encouraged summer travelers to consider registering for the TSA PreCheck system, in which the standard security wait time is 10 minutes or less, compared to about 30 minutes for all other passengers.

Last year, a record 22% of all domestic flights nationwide were delayed by at least 15 minutes, most often because of weather, even as flight cancellations dropped to their lowest point since 2016, according to data from the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Historically, flight delays and cancellations increase over the summer months, said Alec Slatky, a spokesman for AAA Northeast. In 2023, July was the worst month for on-time performance, followed by June, both at the three major metropolitan area airports and nationwide, Slatky said.

“Our biggest piece of advice for people concerned about cancellations or delays would be to pick flights earlier in the day if possible for your schedule,” Slatky said. “We consistently find that early morning flights are more likely to take off on time.”

Experts suggest the delays are largely the product of foul and often unpredictable weather, technical glitches and staffing shortages among pilots, mechanics and air traffic controllers.

Despite a hiring surge last year, air traffic control stations nationwide remain 3,000 controllers short, according to new figures from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We are going to see some delays,” said George Novak, president and chief executive of the National Air Carrier Association, an aviation trade association. “There are staffing shortages still at the airlines. There are staffing shortages at the FAA. We are going to need the cooperation of passengers throughout the system to help [keep] things moving efficiently this summer.”

A record-breaking crush of more than 40 million passengers is expected this summer at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports, up roughly 5% from last year, as pent-up demand and cheaper airfares have fueled a nationwide travel bonanza, local and federal officials said Thursday.

Technological advances, such as a new touchless pre-check system that uses facial recognition to verify credentials, will likely move travelers through at a speedier pace in the summer of 2024. But a shortage of airline workers and air traffic controllers, combined with huge crowds and typical summer weather delays, could give déjà vu to passengers who remember the widespread delays and cancellations that marred the summer 2023 travel season.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty could see “over 40 million passengers, a record,” said Anthony Mero, LaGuardia’s general manager, following a news conference Thursday at the Queens airport.

“The numbers are growing,” Mero added. “A big travel season is ahead and we really feel prepared.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A record-breaking crush of more than 40 million passengers is expected this summer at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports.
  • The TSA anticipates screening more than 270 million passengers nationwide this summer, a more than 6% jump from the summer of 2023.
  • While air travel hits record rates, the product of cheaper fares and pent-up demand, experts warn that airline delays could become problematic this year, in part because of staffing shortages.

Record travel numbers

The numbers indicate that air travel in the metropolitan area has rebounded — and then some — since the pandemic.

Last year marked the busiest on record for the three airports, with a total of 144 million travelers, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the facilities.

And that surge has continued into this year, with 32.4 million travelers flying in and out of the airports during the first three months of 2024, another record, Port Authority data shows.

In each of the first four months of 2024, air travel at LaGuardia has exceeded 2023 numbers by an average of 4.5%, Mero said.

That trend is expected to continue Memorial Day weekend — the unofficial start of summer — when air travel at LaGuardia alone could spike by nearly 5% compared to 2023, said Robert Duffy, the airport’s Transportation Security Agency federal security director.

“We will be staffed up to handle whatever the numbers are,” Duffy said.

The story is much the same throughout the country.

The TSA said it expects to screen more than 270 million passengers nationwide this summer, a 6% jump from the summer of 2023.

And the agency anticipates hitting another milestone sometime over the summer months — clearing more than 3 million passengers for flights on a single day, eclipsing the current record of 2.9 million.

“Seven of the 10 busiest days ever in TSA history have occurred within the last 12 months,” said agency Administrator David Pekoske. “And two of the 10 busiest days occurred last week. That should give you a sense for how busy we expect it to be.”

Rebecca Spicer, a spokesperson for Airlines for America, a trade association representing leading U.S. airlines, said the demand for air travel should not come as a surprise.

“Airfares are at historic lows when you look at inflationary changes,” Spicer said. “There’s more choice and variety for consumers to pick from so they can find the right options that fit their needs and their desires and their family plans.”

The Memorial Day weekend will be the busiest at airports in the metropolitan area and across the country since 2005, when 3.64 million passengers got back in the air as the travel industry finally rebounded from the 9/11 attacks, according to a post on AAA’s website. Holiday airfares for the weekend should be “comparable to last year,” according to the AAA post, with booking data showing “a 1% to 2% increase in prices for domestic flights.”

Air travel experts advised passengers to arrive early for flights, particularly when flying during peak times, to follow TSA guidelines and to avoid verbal and physical confrontations with airline and airport staff.

Pekoske also encouraged summer travelers to consider registering for the TSA PreCheck system, in which the standard security wait time is 10 minutes or less, compared to about 30 minutes for all other passengers.

Delays, staffing shortages

Last year, a record 22% of all domestic flights nationwide were delayed by at least 15 minutes, most often because of weather, even as flight cancellations dropped to their lowest point since 2016, according to data from the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Historically, flight delays and cancellations increase over the summer months, said Alec Slatky, a spokesman for AAA Northeast. In 2023, July was the worst month for on-time performance, followed by June, both at the three major metropolitan area airports and nationwide, Slatky said.

“Our biggest piece of advice for people concerned about cancellations or delays would be to pick flights earlier in the day if possible for your schedule,” Slatky said. “We consistently find that early morning flights are more likely to take off on time.”

Experts suggest the delays are largely the product of foul and often unpredictable weather, technical glitches and staffing shortages among pilots, mechanics and air traffic controllers.

Despite a hiring surge last year, air traffic control stations nationwide remain 3,000 controllers short, according to new figures from the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We are going to see some delays,” said George Novak, president and chief executive of the National Air Carrier Association, an aviation trade association. “There are staffing shortages still at the airlines. There are staffing shortages at the FAA. We are going to need the cooperation of passengers throughout the system to help [keep] things moving efficiently this summer.”

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