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Super Commuter

Transportation Nation

Air Commuters Growing in Number

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

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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WNYC News

Map | Growing Group of Super-Commuters Flock to Manhattan

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

WNYC

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.

Comments [8]