A passenger leaves Long Island MacArthur Airport recently. A recent Cirium...

A passenger leaves Long Island MacArthur Airport recently. A recent Cirium analysis for Newsday found flights will be down 17% in 2022 from 2019. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Dix Hills retirees Nancy and Ronald Gossow fly out of Long Island MacArthur Airport several times a year. For them, it beats lumbering down the Long Island Expressway to reach the New York City-area airports.

But flights are down at the Islip airport, like at most midsized airports across the country. There will be roughly 17% fewer departures at MacArthur in 2022 compared to 2019, according to an analysis provided to Newsday by aviation analytics company Cirium.

Leaner airline schedules are a lingering outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic, and smaller airports nationally are feeling the impact. Industry experts said airlines have trimmed schedules and are focusing on sending planes to larger airports, where they can maximize profits while managing a pilot shortage and inflationary issues.

It's “a familiar story at many other regional airports in the U.S.," Mike Arnot, an airline industry commentator and Cirium spokesman, said in an email.

American Airlines stopped flying out of MacArthur in September, and Southwest Airlines —which canceled thousands of U.S. flights last week after a winter storm swept through the country from Dec. 21 through Dec. 26 — had previously reduced service at the Islip airport. But Arnot noted that Frontier Airlines has added 35% more flights compared to before the pandemic, and low-cost airline Breeze Airways began service there in early 2022.

The Gossows said they would love to see more destinations offered, but MacArthur’s convenience on the Island keeps them going back.

"It's been a blessing for us to use,” Nancy Gossow said. “That’s the only airport I would consider, even if it’s more expensive, even if it’s not nonstop.”

While 76% of all U.S. airports lost air service in October 2022 compared to October 2019, regional airports such as MacArthur were hit the hardest, according to the Regional Airline Association, a trade group. At 23 medium-sized hub airports nationwide, there were 16% fewer flights this October compared to October 2019, the trade group said.

MacArthur, long considered an economic boon to the region, had 5,358 departing flights in 2022 compared to 6,464 in 2019, Cirium data shows. The data used by Cirium includes flights scheduled through the end of this month. Departing flights at the airport are down 32% since 2012.

MacArthur Airport Commissioner Shelley LaRose-Arken in a statement said that airports throughout the country, including at larger ones in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas and Houston, have seen fewer departures.

"The airline industry is endeavoring to secure pilots, crew members and mechanics — a national crisis that has caused carriers to take airplanes out of service for the foreseeable future," she said.

She credited a strategy adopted in 2016 to raise awareness about MacArthur for bringing in Frontier and Breeze Airways, as well as new nonstop destinations.

Aviation experts said the loss of flights potentially hinders growth for the region and leaves passengers who want more options facing longer drives to bigger airports.

MacArthur has nonstop service to seven cities, with three more markets being added back later this winter or in early spring. Customers looking for other destinations likely will head to LaGuardia, Kennedy or Newark Liberty airports, aviation experts said.

Southold resident Terrence Flood recently had to trek to Kennedy for a flight to Fort Myers, Florida, since Frontier Airlines discontinued that route from the airport in 2018. Flood said the other alternative at MacArthur was a Southwest flight to Baltimore/Washington International Airport for another connection that would turn the trip into a six- to eight-hour ordeal.

“My preferential airport is hands down Islip. It’s just so much easier, you don’t have the lines, you don’t have the crowds, you don’t have the hassle of traffic, or parking,” he said. 

“For me to get to Kennedy is a nightmare. It’s exhausting. You’re exhausted before you even get on a plane,” he said.

Flood, a commercial pilot who does contract work for private aircraft owners, sees tremendous opportunity at MacArthur. But he said the aviation industry is facing multiple constraints, including a labor crunch and higher fuel prices.

“In order for it to reach its full potential, it has to have the aircraft there. The airlines have to be willing to commit,” he said.

Experts said major carriers have shifted their strategy. American Airlines dropped service to MacArthur and three other cities in 2022.

Breeze, Frontier and Southwest airlines operate a total of roughly 14 daily flights at the airport, according to Edward Shelswell-White, an aviation consultant hired by Islip Town.

There were about 17 daily flights in 2019, Shelswell-White said.

Carriers went from offering numerous flights to and from many airports to using larger airplanes fewer times per day and often in larger markets, said Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Co. Inc., an aviation consulting group based in Port Washington. This is evident at the Islip terminal, where flights are being served by larger aircraft carrying more passengers, Shelswell-White said.

"That’s just evidence of how things change even if the market itself … really hasn’t changed very much,” Mann said in an email.

A reduced flight inventory hasn’t dampened people’s appetite to fly out of Islip. Demand continues to remain strong, according to a traffic performance report prepared by Shelswell-White. 

The load factor, a measurement of occupied seats that gauges how full flights are, was 78% in 2022, close to 2019’s 81%, according to the federal Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Still, only 478,009 passengers boarded flights at MacArthur in 2022 through September, below the 559,413 that boarded during the same period in 2019, according to the federal transportation department data. It is up since 262,983 passengers boarded in 2020, when COVID-19 grounded thousands of flights across the country and airlines began furloughing and firing thousands of workers. Pilots also were offered early retirement packages, furthering a pilot shortage that may not resolve for years, experts said.

Carriers were unprepared to manage the travel surge in 2022, as cancellations and delays rocked the industry. In response, airlines pared back schedules, and in some cases completely wiped out service from some markets, experts said.

This isn’t the first time carriers cut service from small and midsize airports. It’s typically costlier for carriers to run flights from smaller airports that often hold fewer passengers than flights out of major hubs, experts said.

“What they’re doing constantly is trying to optimize for their own top line. They want to make the most money, fly the routes that have the most passengers and earn them the highest profit,” said Hayley Berg, lead economist at Hopper, a travel booking app.

Major carriers typically will cull from smaller airports that aren’t producing strong enough profits, don’t add enough value and also are usually near larger airports, said Shelswell-White, the aviation consultant.

“They know how to shrink their networks to be profitable in the face of those pressures. They’re going to continue to invest in places strategic to them like LaGuardia and JFK and their hub airports, as well as places where customers demand to go,” Shelswell-White said.

MacArthur weathered the 2008 financial crisis and slipped into a slump that lasted until 2016, the report states. Passenger numbers trended downward from 2008 to 2016 as the airport struggled to recruit airlines, according to DOT data.

Southwest Airlines, once considered MacArthur’s main carrier, began to reduce service there in 2007, and annual departures began to dwindle. Southwest was instead focused on growing operations at other major destination airports, such as LaGuardia, where it could make more profit, Newsday previously reported. The number of passengers fell by almost half from 2007 through 2016, from 1,165,060 to 595,961, when carriers cut flights and reduced service at regional airports.

In 2016, the airport, run by the Town of Islip, said it began to focus on ramping up customer demand. By 2018, passenger numbers had climbed to 810,019, before falling in 2019, DOT data shows.

There were 552,652 passengers who boarded in 2021, the most recent complete year available. 

Some experts continue to feel the airport will remain attractive to low-cost airlines for offering less-expensive terminal gate rentals and operating in a less-competitive environment.

“For carriers in general, it’s going to come down to, ‘Is there enough demand for flights from that airport to justify having a route there and servicing that specific airport,’” Berg said, adding that planes don’t normally fly with a load factor less than 70% to 80%.

 Eddie Lobo, of Patchogue, was recently at MacArthur picking up his 73-year-old mother, Sonia Nuñez, who flew in from Florida.

"This place, as long as I've been coming here, is super clean, the staff is super friendly. … It's never been super packed," he said, noting his mother, who was picked up in a wheelchair, is always taken care of.

His mother agreed. "It's small and it's comfortable. It's excellent," Nuñez said in Spanish.

Dix Hills retirees Nancy and Ronald Gossow fly out of Long Island MacArthur Airport several times a year. For them, it beats lumbering down the Long Island Expressway to reach the New York City-area airports.

But flights are down at the Islip airport, like at most midsized airports across the country. There will be roughly 17% fewer departures at MacArthur in 2022 compared to 2019, according to an analysis provided to Newsday by aviation analytics company Cirium.

Leaner airline schedules are a lingering outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic, and smaller airports nationally are feeling the impact. Industry experts said airlines have trimmed schedules and are focusing on sending planes to larger airports, where they can maximize profits while managing a pilot shortage and inflationary issues.

It's “a familiar story at many other regional airports in the U.S.," Mike Arnot, an airline industry commentator and Cirium spokesman, said in an email.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • There are roughly 17% fewer departing flights in 2022 at MacArthur compared to 2019, according to data provided by flight analytics company Cirium.
  • While leaner airline schedules nationwide are a lingering outcome of the pandemic, this means less travel options for passengers who may be forced to drive to city-area airports instead.
  • But there are some positive signs for MacArthur: Frontier has added 35% more flights since the COVID-19 pandemic started, and Breeze Airlines expects to add more destinations in 2023.

American Airlines stopped flying out of MacArthur in September, and Southwest Airlines —which canceled thousands of U.S. flights last week after a winter storm swept through the country from Dec. 21 through Dec. 26 — had previously reduced service at the Islip airport. But Arnot noted that Frontier Airlines has added 35% more flights compared to before the pandemic, and low-cost airline Breeze Airways began service there in early 2022.

The Gossows said they would love to see more destinations offered, but MacArthur’s convenience on the Island keeps them going back.

"It's been a blessing for us to use,” Nancy Gossow said. “That’s the only airport I would consider, even if it’s more expensive, even if it’s not nonstop.”

Nancy and Ronald Gossow of Dix Hills collect their bags...

Nancy and Ronald Gossow of Dix Hills collect their bags at Long Island MacArthur Airport earlier this month. They would like to see more destinations offered, but MacArthur’s convenience keeps them coming back. Credit: Danielle Silverman

While 76% of all U.S. airports lost air service in October 2022 compared to October 2019, regional airports such as MacArthur were hit the hardest, according to the Regional Airline Association, a trade group. At 23 medium-sized hub airports nationwide, there were 16% fewer flights this October compared to October 2019, the trade group said.

MacArthur, long considered an economic boon to the region, had 5,358 departing flights in 2022 compared to 6,464 in 2019, Cirium data shows. The data used by Cirium includes flights scheduled through the end of this month. Departing flights at the airport are down 32% since 2012.

Airport commissioner: 'National crisis'

MacArthur Airport Commissioner Shelley LaRose-Arken in a statement said that airports throughout the country, including at larger ones in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas and Houston, have seen fewer departures.

"The airline industry is endeavoring to secure pilots, crew members and mechanics — a national crisis that has caused carriers to take airplanes out of service for the foreseeable future," she said.

She credited a strategy adopted in 2016 to raise awareness about MacArthur for bringing in Frontier and Breeze Airways, as well as new nonstop destinations.

Aviation experts said the loss of flights potentially hinders growth for the region and leaves passengers who want more options facing longer drives to bigger airports.

MacArthur has nonstop service to seven cities, with three more markets being added back later this winter or in early spring. Customers looking for other destinations likely will head to LaGuardia, Kennedy or Newark Liberty airports, aviation experts said.

Southold resident Terrence Flood recently had to trek to Kennedy for a flight to Fort Myers, Florida, since Frontier Airlines discontinued that route from the airport in 2018. Flood said the other alternative at MacArthur was a Southwest flight to Baltimore/Washington International Airport for another connection that would turn the trip into a six- to eight-hour ordeal.

“My preferential airport is hands down Islip. It’s just so much easier, you don’t have the lines, you don’t have the crowds, you don’t have the hassle of traffic, or parking,” he said. 

“For me to get to Kennedy is a nightmare. It’s exhausting. You’re exhausted before you even get on a plane,” he said.

Flood, a commercial pilot who does contract work for private aircraft owners, sees tremendous opportunity at MacArthur. But he said the aviation industry is facing multiple constraints, including a labor crunch and higher fuel prices.

“In order for it to reach its full potential, it has to have the aircraft there. The airlines have to be willing to commit,” he said.

Experts said major carriers have shifted their strategy. American Airlines dropped service to MacArthur and three other cities in 2022.

Breeze, Frontier and Southwest airlines operate a total of roughly 14 daily flights at the airport, according to Edward Shelswell-White, an aviation consultant hired by Islip Town.

There were about 17 daily flights in 2019, Shelswell-White said.

Carriers change strategies

Carriers went from offering numerous flights to and from many airports to using larger airplanes fewer times per day and often in larger markets, said Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Co. Inc., an aviation consulting group based in Port Washington. This is evident at the Islip terminal, where flights are being served by larger aircraft carrying more passengers, Shelswell-White said.

"That’s just evidence of how things change even if the market itself … really hasn’t changed very much,” Mann said in an email.

A reduced flight inventory hasn’t dampened people’s appetite to fly out of Islip. Demand continues to remain strong, according to a traffic performance report prepared by Shelswell-White. 

The load factor, a measurement of occupied seats that gauges how full flights are, was 78% in 2022, close to 2019’s 81%, according to the federal Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Still, only 478,009 passengers boarded flights at MacArthur in 2022 through September, below the 559,413 that boarded during the same period in 2019, according to the federal transportation department data. It is up since 262,983 passengers boarded in 2020, when COVID-19 grounded thousands of flights across the country and airlines began furloughing and firing thousands of workers. Pilots also were offered early retirement packages, furthering a pilot shortage that may not resolve for years, experts said.

Carriers were unprepared to manage the travel surge in 2022, as cancellations and delays rocked the industry. In response, airlines pared back schedules, and in some cases completely wiped out service from some markets, experts said.

This isn’t the first time carriers cut service from small and midsize airports. It’s typically costlier for carriers to run flights from smaller airports that often hold fewer passengers than flights out of major hubs, experts said.

“What they’re doing constantly is trying to optimize for their own top line. They want to make the most money, fly the routes that have the most passengers and earn them the highest profit,” said Hayley Berg, lead economist at Hopper, a travel booking app.

Major carriers typically will cull from smaller airports that aren’t producing strong enough profits, don’t add enough value and also are usually near larger airports, said Shelswell-White, the aviation consultant.

“They know how to shrink their networks to be profitable in the face of those pressures. They’re going to continue to invest in places strategic to them like LaGuardia and JFK and their hub airports, as well as places where customers demand to go,” Shelswell-White said.

MacArthur's decade of decline

MacArthur weathered the 2008 financial crisis and slipped into a slump that lasted until 2016, the report states. Passenger numbers trended downward from 2008 to 2016 as the airport struggled to recruit airlines, according to DOT data.

Southwest Airlines, once considered MacArthur’s main carrier, began to reduce service there in 2007, and annual departures began to dwindle. Southwest was instead focused on growing operations at other major destination airports, such as LaGuardia, where it could make more profit, Newsday previously reported. The number of passengers fell by almost half from 2007 through 2016, from 1,165,060 to 595,961, when carriers cut flights and reduced service at regional airports.

In 2016, the airport, run by the Town of Islip, said it began to focus on ramping up customer demand. By 2018, passenger numbers had climbed to 810,019, before falling in 2019, DOT data shows.

There were 552,652 passengers who boarded in 2021, the most recent complete year available. 

Some experts continue to feel the airport will remain attractive to low-cost airlines for offering less-expensive terminal gate rentals and operating in a less-competitive environment.

“For carriers in general, it’s going to come down to, ‘Is there enough demand for flights from that airport to justify having a route there and servicing that specific airport,’” Berg said, adding that planes don’t normally fly with a load factor less than 70% to 80%.

 Eddie Lobo, of Patchogue, was recently at MacArthur picking up his 73-year-old mother, Sonia Nuñez, who flew in from Florida.

"This place, as long as I've been coming here, is super clean, the staff is super friendly. … It's never been super packed," he said, noting his mother, who was picked up in a wheelchair, is always taken care of.

His mother agreed. "It's small and it's comfortable. It's excellent," Nuñez said in Spanish.

Latest videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME