JFK Sucks

Delays/Cancellations, JFK - New York/JFK

Yesterday was a beautiful day in LA with just a bit of marine layer rolling in at the beaches. A little low cloud may cause delays up in San Francisco but it rarely does down here. So it was a little surprising to see that there were delays due to thunderstorms.

It must have been the massive monsoonal moisture to our east, because there was certainly nothing going on here. That made me start thinking about how lucky we are here in LA. Yes, LAX is old and crowded, but when’s the last time you heard about someone stuck on a taxiway for several hours? It just doesn’t really happen.

This is actually one of the few areas in which I find myself feeling sorry for New Yorkers. They truly have the worst airport situation I can imagine right now. As most people know, you have three major airports over there. LaGuardia has been jam-packed for as long as I can remember. Newark has been delay-prone for years as Continental has continued to ramp up its hub.

And then there’s JFK. It used to be a sleepy backwater airport that really only had activity in the afternoon when all the European flights departed. That started to change when JetBlue started flying. Since that point, the airport’s traffic numbers have gone straight up.

American started to build up flights along with JetBlue, and most recently, Delta decided it was time to really step up their growth as well. Within the last year, the number of flights scheduled hit that critical point where the airport began to melt down. A quick look at year over year performance will prove my point.

Below are the monthly Ground Delay Programs (GDPs) issued for JFK by month for 2006 and 2007. A GDP is when aircraft on their way to an airport are held at their departure airport because the arrival airport just can’t handle the amount of traffic being thrown at it. If you’d like to read more about this, click here. Usually, a GDP is caused by weather, because bad conditions mean fewer flights may be able to land. But JFK is beyond the point where weather is the sole cause. Beautifully clear days with favorable winds still find themselves with GDPs issued because there are too many planes scheduled.

2006 2007
January 6 11
February 2 9
March 1 15
April 1 17
May 1 9
June 4 20

Looking at this, you can see that in June of this year, 20 out of 30 days had a GDP issued for at least part of the day. Every month saw massive increases over last year to the point where I would now consider Newark over JFK, and that says something.

The most important question now is . . . how is this allowed to happen? Nobody denies there is a problem, but people keep talking about longer term solutions. Yes, the FAA is redesigning the airspace around New York to be more efficient, but that doesn’t help TODAY. There is only one solution guaranteed to work, and that’s cutting flights.

No airline is going cut flights on its own, because it has no guarantee that others will follow. (They won’t.) The only group that has the ability to limit flights across the board is the FAA, and they need to get moving on this. They were able to get American and United to cooperate by reducing flights at O’Hare. Why hasn’t it happened at JFK?

Is it the impending airspace redesign? Fine, wait for a month until that happens and then you’ll know your true capacity. It’s not going to stop airlines from adding flights though, so there still needs to be limits determined by the FAA. Until that happens, New Yorkers and visitors to New York are going to continue to suffer.

Take a look at the short JFK-Boston route, for instance. The 7p flight on Delta is scheduled for 1:53. That’s 30 minutes longer than the 7a flight and an astounding 1:21 longer than last night’s actual flight time. That means they’re expecting to sit on the ground for probably around 1:15 every day on average. To put things in perspective, a flight at 630p from LaGuardia to Boston is blocked in at “only” 1:19, that’s :34 less than JFK. True, some of those problems are due to Delta’s horribly cramped gate situation at JFK, but even JetBlue’s 640p departure from JFK still has a 1:41 block time, and American’s 555p flight is blocked at 1:35 from their spacious, sparkling new terminal. How could you NOT take the train?

This may just be one example, but you can look yourself and see that it’s like this on every flight, especially in the later afternoon. Something needs to change, and the FAA needs to take action now.

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12 comments on “JFK Sucks

  1. No wonder I’ve had nothing but absolute cr@p (sorry, are we allowed to swear here? If there’s anything that could get me to really start swearing is the mention of JFK airport) the last two times I flew through JFK. Err, issues with missing luggages, that is. One within the airport and the next one for not making it to the next flight. Now that I’ve read this I am going to try never ever to try to use JFK for a connection again, ever.

    BTW- I didn’t realize GDP could mean anything else other than Gross Domestic Product. LOL.

  2. for the record: I have in fact spent close to an hour once sitting between -I believe- two runways at LAX once. it was on board a BA 747 from heathrow. we arrived early and our gate was still occupied. the pilots made it sound like it happened rather often but I’ve never had to experience it again.

  3. I lived in NY for a little over a year while in grad school. Thankfully, I only had to fly out of JFK once, and I was blessed with no delay (my only other JFK experiences were connections in the pre-Jet Blue era, so I didn’t have to worry about all of the road traffic, backed up check-in lines, and other garbage that goes along with a typical New York airport experience).

    During that 13-month stint, however, I probably flew ATA’s LGA-MDW route at least 8 times and was frequently delayed, once sitting on the runway for over 4 hours.

    Personally, I think that NYC–not just JFK–really has an aviation crisis on its hands, because all three airports have reached their breaking points (Delta now has to fly its shuttle out of the marine terminal at LGA). Newark is a possible exception, and its far-afield location makes it impractical, especially for short domestic flights (the train takes over an hour because of the impractical “airtrain” connection, and I have spent as much as 3 hours [and $75] in a taxi trying to get from Manhattan to Newark during rush hour).

    Although a 4th airport seems unrealistic, I can’t see any other way of truly solving this issue beyond signifacant expansion of the existing fields, and this would be impossible due to space constraints. I’d love to see them make White Plains Airport into a sort of second LaGuardia, but you never hear of this being seriously considered.

  4. Delta now has to fly its shuttle out of the marine terminal at LGA

    They’ve done that for years, and I’m pretty sure it’s on purpose. There’s much less hassle for customers flying out of that historic terminal than the central terminal building.

    I’d love to see them make White Plains Airport into a sort of second LaGuardia, but you never hear of this being seriously considered.

    They don’t talk about it because, sadly, it won’t happen. They have the “SNA Syndrome” meaning that there are too many rich people around for realistic expansion to happen. They’re talking about Stewart/Newburgh as being the next big guy, but that’s really far away.

  5. Uncle Chucky won’t allow the Feds to do anything that might impact Jetblue, so imposing a cap on operations at JFK would impact them pretty hard as the largest operator.

    ORD sucked after slots were abolished as well, albeit not to this level. The difference is that when they (re)imposed the cap, AA and UA were more or less at parity. With a lower level of animosity between the management of the two carriers, getting them both to the table wasn’t as hard to accomplish.

    That’s not the case between DL and B6. Neither one of them is going to willingly come to the table. The Feds will have to force the issue if anything is going to occur, and I just don’t see that happening.

    Plus, you have to remember that when slot controls expired at ORD, the terminal was still facility constrained, so the uptick in operations was a little more measured than what’s happening at JFK, where facilities aren’t as hard to come by.

  6. ORD is bad, but not as monumentally awful as anything in the NY area. Plus, I love what the city did with the Midway expansion (we have Southwest to thank). Can you imagine how horrible ORD would be if Midway were either (a) the same airport it was 10 years ago or (b) non-existent, and we had to use Rockford, Milwaukee, or Gary as a secondary option? Plus, I view transportation to the NYC-area airports as just as big an issue as the actual operational challenges they face.

    CF–interesting about the DL having always used the marine terminal at LGA. I didn’t realize that. It is a beautiful building.

  7. Interestingly, you have Continental, in a roundabout way, to thank for DL’s shuttle using the Marine Terminal. As I remember it, when Texas Air bought Eastern, they had to divest the New York Air shuttle operation, which was bought by Pan Am. Due to gate issues at the main terminal (PA couldn’t assemble a large enough contiguous block of gates), PA refurbished the Marine Terminal. The Pan Am Shuttle was one of the parts of PA that DL bought when PA went belly-up.

  8. Being stuck with flying out of JFK most of the time, I coined the phrase “Hour delays are the new on-time”. Of course, 2 hour delays are the norm from 5 – 9 pm. Why on earth would anyone fly between JFK and BOS or DCA? It’s unbelievably ridiculous and frustrating. And being that New York really sucks at having easy, affordable public transportation to its airports, just getting to the airport puts you in a bad mood. Having lived in Chicago for many years, I can now fully appreciate the $2 train ride to both airports there. New York has some serious problems that are going to lead to gridlock if something isn’t done soon.

  9. Wow so many comments about Chicago.

    Zach: I still cannot believe how MDW has transformed, and how fast this transformation actually occurred. If I were to be delayed at an airport, I’d much rather be in Chicago than NYC–whatever airport.

    Mark: I agree about the relatively efficient trains, but I wish they got rid of the blue line slow zones sooner….

    All–let’s hope that the new runway configs will improve the ORD on-time experience… however mroe capacity woudl surely would lead to more flights and just as much delays and frustration in the end.

  10. On a recent flight stop over in NYC, I heard several airport employees, people of color, standing around making disparaging comments about white customers. They were talking very loudly and didn’t seem to care that other people heard them. They seemed to feel it was necessary to let everyone else know how much they disliked white customers. Really? If they can’t be professional and courteous they shouldn’t work there.

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