Via Tyler Cowen, the ‘Thanksgiving rush’ is something that many airports already experience at least one day a week, and some major airports regularly experience twice every week.
According to the group’s analysis, a true “Thanksgiving rush” involves passenger volumes that run between 108 percent and 259 percent above an average day.
..Of the 30 busiest U.S. airports (accounting for 70 percent of total U.S. passenger flow), 13 already feel like the day before Thanksgiving one day a week on average. Three airports — Midway, Las Vegas McCarran, and Orlando International — suffer those levels of congestion twice a week. Worse yet, the capacity improvements that are currently slated won’t help much. Within six years, the study notes, 27 of the 30 busiest airports will be Thanksgiving-busy at least once a week.
The piece argues that tens of billions need to be spend on airports, and notes that Singapore’s Changi airport has a facility charge of over $15 while in the US these charges are capped at $4.50.
But it’s not quite that easy. Because busy airports aren’t the problem, and more airport spending isn’t a panacea.
- Increasing airport costs drives away airlines, either to alternative airports (high cost Miami leads carriers to flee for low cost Ft Lauderdale) or out of the market entirely (low cost carriers setting pricing, rather than network carriers).
- Airport infrastructure projects in the US have little record of being particularly good investments. Washington Dulles built a train that stops where they plan to eventually build a terminal rather than where there’s currently a terminal — with no likelihood in sight of that new terminal being built soon. Miami is expensive because of massive capital investment, but that hasn’t made it a good airport, it’s one travelers want to avoid.
The notion that passengers or aviation are under-taxed is highly misleading. US domestic tickets are assessed a 7.5% tax, but the funds aren’t then dedicated to capital projects. The last budget deal increased ‘security fees’ but the revenue stream then plus the deficit.
Besides, merely having a ‘busier than usual airport’ tells us little about the ‘frustrating Thanksgivig experience’. Rather than a lot of passengers through a facility, there are specific issues that aren’t all or primarily airport issues.
- Difficulty finding on-airport parking
- Long security lines (we just raised security taxes while TSA has made a mess of precheck; the TSA administrator says we should abolish liquids rules but he hasn’t done so and won’t)
- Packed planes (we’re at historically high load factors now, airlines have exercised capacity discipline, they’re finally making money and there’s little stupid money dumping capacity into markets)
- Not only are planes full, but that means there’s little slack in the system for irregular operations. If your flight is cancelled or you misconnect it’s hard to get re-routed to where you’re going.
- More leisure travelers and fewer business travelers. That means inexperienced travelers who don’t know the drill at security, crowd the gate, and board inefficiently.
Little of that has anything to do airport capital investment, which tends to spread out the airport.. building off-site rental car facilities… sprawling complexes that can lengthen travel times and frustrate passengers even more.
Meanwhile, there are some projects even now that seem to go quite well under current financing arrangements. San Francisco generally, the new LAX International (Tom Bradley) terminal, the Delta terminal at JFK (much of those dollars are Delta’s).
I’m not suggesting US airports are in fine shape, some are very bad. But it’s not clear that busy airports are the biggest problem in travel, or the most frustrating.
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