Streams

Air Commuters Growing in Number

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 - 04:07 PM

Some 4,000 commuters travel to and from New York City by air for work  -- part of a tiny but rapidly growing group of super super-commuters.

The most recent census numbers show several thousand commute to work by plane each week, enabled by technology and fueled by economic necessity. In census data from a decade ago, this phenomenon was undetectable.

“What we’re seeing is the collapse of a region’s boundaries,” said Mitchell Moss, the director of the Rudin Center, a New York University transportation think tank. “Distance has been overcome.”

Data crunched by the Rudin Center at New York University for WNYC show how this super-long distance commuting is upending notions of work, home and office.

As super commuting rises, Moss said a number of notions begin to fray – like “rush hour” and “the work week.”  Many air commuters will fly on Tuesdays and Thursdays because that’s cheapest, and work a day or two at home.

Scott Sunshine’s commute starts at 4:30 am. He drives about an hour to the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl., takes a two hour flight, then the AirTrain from JFK, to the E train and finally the No. 6 train.  He’s in his midtown Manhattan office by 10 a.m., and four days later, he’s home in the Sunshine State.

“I’m a carpool with a bunch of people from my town who make the same commute,” Sunshine said.

The most recent census numbers show several thousand commute to work by plane each week, enabled by technology and fueled by economic necessity. In census data from a decade ago, this phenomenon was undetectable.

“What we’re seeing is the collapse of a region’s boundaries,” said Mitchell Moss, the director of the Rudin Center, a New York University transportation think tank. “Distance has been overcome.”

Data crunched by the Rudin Center at New York University for WNYC show how this super-long distance commuting is upending notions of work, home and office.

As super commuting rises, Moss said a number of notions begin to fray – like “rush hour” and “the work week.”  Many air commuters will fly on Tuesdays and Thursdays because that’s cheapest, and work a day or two at home.

Sean Donovan can relate. He’s on the 6 a.m. flight every Tuesday from Detroit to New York for his job at a drug company.

“In the industry I’m in, you never know from month to month or year to year if I’m going to have a job,” Donovan said.

He ran the numbers. Even paying for his mortgage in Ann Arbor, a studio in Manhattan, and all the airfares, he said he still comes out ahead coming a third of the way across the country for work.

The reasons for the air commuting phenomenon are various – but all recent.  The economic collapse meant there were more well-paying jobs in New York than elsewhere.  But outside New York, housing values dropped 25 percent, and people couldn’t sell their homes.

Nor did they necessarily want to.

And in the last few years, technology has made this easy: commuters can interact with kids via Skype or iChat and can work on the plane.

“I never set the ‘Out-of-Office’ reply on my email,” said Dave Gustafson, who lives in Atlanta, works in New York, and has offices in Silicon Valley. “I’m never really out of the office.”

Gustafson said there are benefits to his lifestyle.

“Because I travel like this I’m not locked into living in a particular area. We’re talking about relocating to another part of the country, and I don’t have to find a new job, so long as I’m near an airport. We can pick our place.”

He’s picking Colorado.

Families say they’ve adjusted, but with reservations.

“It was a lit bit of a disappointment for us because it’s not what we wanted,” said Scott Sunshine’s wife, Hilary. “We were hoping to remain together as a family unit, and initially it was difficult. But at the end of the day, this is what Scott’s been doing.”

Hilary Sunshine says she’s thrilled Florida is her home, and where their four children go to school.

As for Scott, he’s calculated he’s traveled to the moon and back – twice.

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Comments [7]

Only Choice 2

I do this from MIA to DC. It's the only choice if one wants to stay employed and stay competitive in ones career field especially in IT. If you want to remain employed you must move up the ladder otherwise you will become unemployable. For example, nobody is hiring 40+ year old Developers, System Administrators, etc. because the Millennial are running circles around them for less pay. Adapt or become permanently unemployed. Extreme commuting is viable option and becoming the only option going forward.

Dec. 02 2012 11:22 PM
Only choice

I'll speak from real life experience from someone that is living this life, it is very hard for people outside the influence to understand. That is why we have numerous talk shows and experts talking all day long and giving opinions on things that are not living through themselves. Well speaking as an architect, the unemployment rate along with the residential market crash has left me with no choice other than to work no less than 1,000 miles from home. There are no jobs where I live and there are no buyers for my brand new house! I have watched most of my neighbors get laid off and struggle over the last 5 years. I am fortunate to stay above water while the politicians and those that are indirectly affected by what is going on to just post on blogs and talk on talk shows. The corporations has failed us, they have asked us to do more with less, for less. They have no loyalty to their employees or their families, or the communities in which they are located. With that said, I will be on a plane headed back home at the end of this week, in the meantime, I will pray that none of you are forced into a similar situation.

Oct. 21 2012 03:16 PM
Chris

If 4,000 people working in NYC are doing this, then they must represent approximately .075% of New York City workers. With the average household in NYC making about $50,000/year and average commute times being about 40 minutes (according to the 2010 census), these extreme outliers don't represent any kind of "collapse" of regional boundaries nor is this type of commute "upending" anything. To make that strong of statement about less than 1/10 of a percent of a population is absurd. It's such a faint signal that it's impossible to draw any meaningful conclusion from it other than the fact that some people do unusual things.

Jun. 21 2012 09:58 PM
Orange County Ford

Many actors commute by plane to because they live in L.A but many shows are taped somewhere else; lots of tv shows shot in Canada nowadays. Vanessa Williams said in an interview that she lives in NY but used to fly to L.A to shoot Ugly Betty.

Mar. 26 2012 05:27 AM
Cberthet

There are many reasons why people commute by plane. They did not find the job they want back home, their spouse has a good job, the kids have great friends....It shows that people are more attached to their roots and have less trust in the corporations.
People cange jobs much more often. The company man is dead, because the company does not care about the man ....

Mar. 23 2012 09:47 AM
Hoss

This is a bit of a one sided and overblown study. I'll bet there are an equal number if not more people who commute in the other direction to work in places where they would not like to live. Not to mention all of the New York based consultants who do project work in other places. 4,000 a week is a pathetically small number when JFK does over 100,000 passengers a day: http://bit.ly/wGnRB

Mar. 23 2012 08:45 AM
Andrew

Are you people serious? The 1%? This guy takes a carpool to the airport, flies coach, then takes an air train and then 2 subways, all so he can earn a living for his family AND you're hating on that? He doesn't sound like a millionaire to me. I agree there's enviornmental issues to be worried about but I imagine these flights are already scheduled (and the airline-enviornment issue goes way beyond this).

Speaking as someone who's lived in the NY area their whole life (Long Island) I can say without reservation that high real estate prices and taxes are driving NYers out of state. It's simply too expensive to raise a family here. Prices are too high, even after the housing market crashed, and people are finally leaving for areas that make more economic sense (North Carolina, upstate NY). I've seen countless friends follow that path and as sad as I am to see them go I can't argue their reasons.

The focus here shouldn't be on the commuters (think these people want to fly in and out of NY 2X a week? LGA and JFK are nightmares), it should be on the economic issues that led them to leave NY in the first place.

Mar. 22 2012 09:20 AM

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