This story was reported by Chris Benini, Stephen J. Bronner, Pete Davis, Gregory Leporati and Aliza Moorji. It was written by Pete Davis.
Last year, John Manoni, a retired guidance counselor from Sherman, CT, came to John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport for a flight to Morocco. He called ahead to confirm his flight was on schedule and boarded the plane at 7 p.m., but 17 hours later, the plane hadn’t taken off.
Manoni and other passengers on the Royal Air Moroc aircraft sat on the tarmac until almost noon the next day when the airline finally made everyone exit the plane and wait several more hours until boarding another flight to Morocco - more than 24 hours after his original flight was supposed to depart.
Manoni was one of millions of travelers who experienced airport delays last year that are costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars a year, and Queens passengers are feeling much of the pinch with two major airports located in the borough’s backyard.
A recent report produced by the federal Joint Economic Committee (JEC) examined 10 million flight records from 2007 and found that delays cost the U.S. economy nearly $41 billion.
“It’s clear that significant air traffic reform is overdue,” said Queens Congressmember and Vice Chair of the JEC Carolyn Maloney, who referenced a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reform bill that the Democratic House passed, but currently stalled in the Senate, as a possible solution. “The economy will continue to feel the pinch unless we act soon.”
JFK and LaGuardia ranked fourth and 10th among the nation’s airports with 10,408,536 and 7,762,236 estimated ground-based passenger-delay-hours in 2007, according to the report.
In addition, LaGuardia and Kennedy ranked as the worst two airports with more than 1 million passengers saddled by average delays per passenger at 29.66 and 26.83 minutes, respectively, according to the JEC report.
In addition, the report estimates that the number of airline passengers would likely increase from 689 million in 2007, to 1.1 billion by 2025.
“This report really outlines what the problems are and we need work on another report with the answers,” Maloney said.
While many believe inclement weather causes the bulk of delays, less than 6 percent are actually attributed to weather or security reasons with the summer months seeing the most passenger delays, according to the report.
Meanwhile, passengers waiting for flights at the two Queens airports expressed mixed reactions to the report.
“That is a lot of money they are losing; I thought it would be closer to $100 million, but $41 billion is a ridiculous figure,” said Chachi Prasad, 30, who was at JFK Airport on Monday, June 2. “There are so many people nowadays and that causes the delays.”
Paul Daly, a 38-year-old money manager from Frasier, MI, said the last time he flew back from LaGuardia to Detroit, his flight arrived more than three hours late.
“There were 45 planes in front of us,” he said. “It was a nightmare.”
Daly, who travels to New York frequently on business, said there are very few flights between Detroit and Kennedy, and a flight to Newark often costs $700 more, so his only viable option is to fly into LaGuardia.
“The biggest thing that bothers me is that they’ll put you on the plane and then you’re on the tarmac for 45 minutes or more, he said.
While many travelers expressed shock by the numbers in the report, others said they have not experienced too many delays while flying.
“I personally never had any problems, but it’s been quite a while [since I’ve flown],” said Bob Martin, a retired systems manager for Unilever. “We’ve been lucky I guess.”
Sandra Valeriote, who travels between Canada, Chicago and New York, has seen a number of her flights delayed, but the JEC report still surprised her.
“Losing money because of delays, it’s just not something you think about as far as losing money goes,” Valeriote said.
Meanwhile, Geraldine McDonald, 69, travels from LaGuardia to Atlanta - the airport with the highest total of estimated passenger delay hours in the report. She is used to periodic delays, but she has other gripes with the airlines.
“I think the problem is they’re not truthful,” McDonald said. “They say there’s one problem but there’s really another. They keep you on the plane and you cannot get out. If there is a delay, they don’t compensate you.”
Kate Hanni, the Founder and Executive Director of Flyers Rights, an organization formed in 2006 that advocates for airline passenger rights, agrees with that assessment and believes airlines must allow passengers to exit the aircraft.
“Deplaning is the only way you are going to prevent some of these people from having these terrible delays,” Hanni said. “Deplaning is the way that gives them the ability to drive or get another plane to their destination.”
In addition to delayed flights, passengers are already beginning to pay extra if they want to check bags for their flights.
American Airlines recently announced that after June 15, it would charge passengers $15 each way for the first bag checked and $25 each way for the second, and other airlines are likely to follow soon. Already, American Airlines is charging passengers $25 if they check a second bag on flights.
Hanni said that her organization has received thousands of complaints during the past month with a majority of them focused on baggage payments.
KEY REPORT FINDINGS
$1.6 billion in extra fuel costs
at the gate and 20 percent during the taxiing to the runway.
system delays or air carrier delays (less than six percent of delays were due to
security or extreme weather).
Next: A look at the impact on Queens jobs due to the delays.