I moved to Beacon in 2010, and because my job involves travel, one of the considerations in the city’s favor was the proximity to a regional airport. New York Stewart International, located across the river in New Windsor, seemed to offer convenient access to the U.S. air traffic system. 

Sure enough, I found that I could connect on American Airlines — through a daily flight to Philadelphia — to many of my most common destinations, such as San Francisco, Toronto and Florida. I accepted the fact that I had only limited options of airlines and flight times and that I had to travel to the Port Authority’s other three airports (LaGuardia, JFK and Newark) for direct flights to most cities such as Austin, Texas, and for international flights to China, France and Ireland.

But then we had the pandemic, and the large carriers, Delta and American, dropped their flights to and from Stewart. Today there are only a handful of airlines operating, and the destinations are limited to a few locations in the U.S. (mostly Florida) and cheap flights to Reykjavik and the Faroe Islands.

Play Airlines offers flights from Stewart to Iceland (Photo provided)
Play Airlines offers flights from Stewart to Iceland (Photo provided)

And, of course, we are hearing the stories of near misses at airports, vacation snafus as airlines cancel thousands of flights because of too few staff and, most recently, a door “plug” blowing out in midflight. There’s more at stake than the hours wasted driving to JFK to catch a flight to San Francisco.

The situation at Stewart is not unique. The deregulation of the U.S. air travel industry in 1978 has not led to any of the claims its advocates provided in support of dismantling the regulated competition model that had served the country for 40 years, since the 1930s, in which a federal Civil Aeronautics Board allocated routes to airlines, including those to regional airports, and the prices of flights.

Ganesh Sitaraman, a law professor at Vanderbilt University and the author of Why Flying is Miserable and How to Fix It, has said that “all the things that are a problem with flying are a function of public policy choices. We decide as a country that we want children’s toys to be safe, that we want rural places to have electricity service, that we think banks should be able to function reliably. These are public policy choices to regulate or set up systems that advance goals we have as a country. When we have failures in these systems, it’s a function of getting the policies wrong. What I found in doing the research for the book is that everything about what makes flying miserable today is a function of one big public policy choice: the choice to deregulate the airlines in 1978.”

That decision led to the situation we are in now. 

Where You Can Fly Direct from Stewart“The 1980s were defined by cutthroat competition between the airlines,” Sitaraman has said. “A lot of new entrants offered no-frills service, had no unions and took on the high-volume traffic and high-traffic routes, for example. This initially meant more competition and lower prices on those routes. But the big airlines fought back and pushed out a lot of these new competitors, raised prices afterward, and consolidated into large fortress hubs like Atlanta, Dallas or Charlotte.

“By the end of the decade, after dozens of bankruptcies and mergers, labor-management strife, declining service quality, congestion and lost baggage, there was a shakeout in the airlines that led to reconsolidation. The same big airlines that existed under regulation were still dominant, just without the checks of the regulated period. So, we moved from regulated oligopoly to unregulated oligopoly. Now what we have is more like monopoly capitalism, a system in which there is very little competition and few choices.”

Despite the airlines getting bailed out by the federal government during the pandemic to the tune of $50 billion, the Highlands and even many mid-sized cities such as Dubuque, Iowa, and Toledo, Ohio, have few options for air travel.

The answer is obvious: reregulate the airlines. Sitaraman told The New York Times last month how this could be done: “In big cities, limit any single carrier to 30 percent of the flights. Require the big airlines to serve smaller markets. Require ‘interlining,’ in which airlines honor one another’s tickets if one has a problem. Ban or regulate the offshoring of heavy aircraft maintenance, which is done in countries including China and El Salvador. Mandate minimum seat sizes and protect travelers from involuntary bumping.”

That sounds good to me, especially the second point, which would bring back at least a few daily flights out of Stewart to connector hubs at a reasonable rate. That should be something all Americans would welcome if Congress would come together to enact it.

Behind The Story

Type: Opinion

Opinion: Advocates for ideas and draws conclusions based on the author/producer’s interpretation of facts and data.

Stowe Boyd, who lives in Beacon and is a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, specializes in the economics and ecology of work and the “anthropology of the future.” This column focuses on the local impacts of larger trends.

Join the Conversation

7 Comments

  1. I feel like there is more to this story that I’d love to see explored. I imagine with the shift in population there is more demand than before the pandemic. Besides regulation, which sounds great but highly unlikely, what would bring back the big carriers? What is stopping them? Is the local government doing anything to encourage them back? Surely this airport would take some strain off the over taxed NYC airports.

    1. So Stowe Boyd wants to ban leaf blowers and gas stoves but increase access to, and decrease the cost of, air travel?

      From an article by Hannah Ritchie on the website sustainabilitybynumbers.com:

      “For those that fly, it’s one of the largest chunks of their carbon footprint. But because most people don’t fly, it emits just 2 percent to 3 percent of global emissions. We can demonstrate the inequality of flying with a simple calculation. Let’s say everyone in the world took one return short-haul trip per year. We’ll go from London to Madrid. This would emit around 0.5 tons per person. For 8 billion people, this would be 4 billion tons of CO2.

      “If everyone took a long-haul return trip from London to San Francisco, emissions would be 22 billion tons of CO2 from flying alone. In reality, global aviation emits around one billion tons. That’s because most people in the world don’t fly. They can’t afford it.”

      In other words, flying is for the 1 percent — the same important people who drive electric cars (not a solution to anything, by the way) and like to tell everyone how terrible climate change is and what they must do to “mitigate” it. Ask a farmer in the European Union how that plan is going.

      If you want to regulate, the thing to do would be to heavily tax and penalize frequent fliers — and not by letting them trade for “carbon offsets.” You’d want to make flying even more inconvenient and expensive, not easy-peasy and cheap. Between human nature and predicaments like this, it’s certain no benefit will come until it has to be done because it involves not some technological or regulatory solution but sacrifice and drastic lifestyle changes. This will only happen when it is involuntary.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with Stowe Boyd. He has been dealing with the airport since he moved to Beacon in 2010, but I have seen it since Stewart started passenger service: Frontier through Raleigh-Durham through Atlanta; Northwest through Detroit; American through Chicago, etc. — all better options than traveling to Kennedy or LaGuardia, not to mention the parking costs.

    What percentage of people who travel over the three bridges to Long Island would have an easier, shorter, cheaper trip to Stewart? Wouldn’t it be in the best interests of the Port Authority to mandate that roughly that percentage of flights fly out of Stewart to ease the constant congestion?

    When you do need to go to Kennedy, take Metro-North to Grand Central station, then the Long Island Railroad one stop to Jamaica, where you can catch the AirTrain. It’s a pretty painless trip. [via Facebook]

  3. I fly Play to Amsterdam with a stopover in Reykjavík that is usually less than two hours. It saves me hours of driving to Newark or Kennedy, and the long-term parking is much less. Metro-North is convenient, but Stewart is still just a 15-minute drive, especially with heavy suitcases. And after an eight-hour flight back, I am home within 30 minutes of touchdown, versus more than two hours on public transit if coming into Kennedy. Stewart is underutilized. [via Facebook]

  4. This was going on long before the pandemic. By the time I drive the nightmare to any of these airports and sit in a plane on the tarmac waiting to take off, I can drive to Albany for a reliable, on-time flight. I’d rather go to Stewart, but the Port Authority has a stranglehold on the market. Until it eases its grip, things will never change. Money talks. [via Facebook]

  5. I appreciate Boyd raising questions about the lack of activity at Stewart. But we’re missing another key point: the dangerous overcrowding at Westchester County Airport: (1) We line up in the baggage area to go through the security check-in, (2) Limited seating for waiting at the gates, (3) Pseudo gates created with orange highway cones out the “back door” for boarding, (4) Parking is so desirable you can buy parking “insurance” to try to guarantee a long-term parking spot, but often the dates are sold out, and (5) Rideshares don’t want to take you up to Beacon; I’ve had drivers cancel when they learn where I’m trying to go at 10:30 PM.

    How is this not a security and safety fiasco just waiting to happen?

Leave a comment

The Current welcomes comments on its coverage and local issues. All online comments are moderated, must include your full name and may appear in print. See our guidelines here.