Area Airports, Stalled by Hurricane, Missed a Record in 2012

Before Hurricane Sandy struck, the major airports in the New York metropolitan area were on pace to handle more travelers than they had in any previous year. But after the storm shut them down and forced the cancellation of thousands of flights, 2012 landed just short of the record set in 2007, before the recession.

All told, more than 109 million passengers last year moved through the airports operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Port Authority reported on Thursday. That total was about 600,000 shy of the 2007 high – or about the number of people who pass through the airports in two days.

Though the raw count suggests that activity at the airports has returned to the level before the recession hit and put a damper on traveling, there have been significant shifts in the past five years. Most notable are the surge in international travel and the wane of business travel.

Last year, nearly 35 percent of the passengers – more than 33.5 million of them — were traveling internationally, up from about 30 percent in 2007, according to the Port Authority’s statistics. The trend of steadily increasing numbers of foreign visitors to New York City led to the highest annual use of John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2012.

Along with Kennedy, the Port Authority operates La Guardia Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, N.Y.

The number of domestic travelers had still not bounced back from prerecession levels: The airports served about 71.7 million domestic travelers in 2012, down almost 5 million from 2007. Still, last year’s tally of domestic travelers was the highest since 2008.

While the number of international flights through the region’s airports has been rising, the number of domestic flights has declined. That helps to explain why so few middle seats go unfilled: the average flight to or from the region carried 94 passengers last year, up from 88 five years ago.

The vast majority of all of those passengers were at their leisure. Only about one of every six was traveling purely for business in 2012, down from more than one in four five years ago.

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