Some Travelers Maintain Holiday Plans Despite Predictions of Decline




As many as 15 million travelers passed through New York airports and bus terminals last holiday season. The Port Authority will come out with this year's estimates later this month. Photo: Jason Slotkin

Kirby Mason left New York and her full-time teaching job to attend law school in Georgia in 2008. When she returned to the city earlier this year, she was able to land a substitute teaching job, but even with her family’s support it took awhile for her to fully regain financial independence. With the holiday season coming up, however, she is able to afford plane ticket home to Georgia and an additional trip to Rochester for New Year’s Eve. “I’m back on my feet,” said Kirby.

Mason was one of many travelers to file through the Port Authority on Sunday.  Even on a sleepy weekend day, the Port Authority sees thousands who are getting from point “a” to “b” in this city and beyond. Droves of people decked in football jerseys and team colors shuffled to get to New Jersey to see if the New York Giants would end the Green Bay Packers’  undefeated streak this season.

The bus terminal, which can see as many as 200,000 commuters, tourists and other travelers a day, according to its website, is a hub for New Yorkers both getting around in and out of the city.

But bustle at the Port Authority Bus Terminal may be an anomaly. A recent poll predicts a 7 percent decline nationwide in travel for this holiday season. Polling firm Maritz Research, which released the numbers Nov. 23, predicts fewer people will travel this December due to long-term unemployment and tighter personal budgets.

The firm estimates that airline travel, in particular, will drop off as more would-be travelers opt to stay home.

When you don’t have a job, you can’t do the basic American tradition, like going seeing your family for the holidays,” said Rick Garlick, a senior director at Maritz Research.

While many New Yorkers have already settled on their holiday plans, Port Authority officials, who oversees New York City’s airports, docks and Midtown bus terminal, has yet to predict how many travelers they expect this season or if a decrease is expected, says an agency spokeswoman. In 2010 estimates predicted nearly 15 million travelers would pass through New York’s airports, train, and bus terminals.

But while 31 percent of those who are staying home can’t afford to travel, the poll predicts those who can afford to will go home for the holidays and  spend the same amount of money as last year to do so. New Yorkers travel everywhere from New Jersey to Europe to be with their families.

Business as usual,” said English teacher John Gregory about his holiday plans while passing through the Port Authority Bus Terminal Sunday. Gregory said this year’s flight home to Portland, Or. only cost him about $150 less than he paid in 2010.

Travel companies are still betting on the usual holiday travel increase for this year. Greyhound Lines, which operates over 550 buses a week out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, expects the usual holiday traffic. “We plan accordingly, especially during the holiday season, and plan again to have increase of passenger activity as usual,” said Timothy Stokes, spokesman for the national bus company.

As bad as the economy gets, you just have to be wiser,” said Saul Shun, a software consultant, passing through the bus terminal to his way to Sunday’s Giants game.

New Yorkers may travel more than most. New York City may still have an unemployment rate of 8 percent, but city recovery efforts have been ahead of the curve nationally, says Labor Department economist Jim Brown.  Nearly half of the jobs lost during the recession have returned to the city, but many sectors, including construction and manufacturing, are still hard hit.

But New York’s professional services, which up to a few months ago, were outpacing  job growth rates for most of the nation.

Then corporate profits have recovered quite nicely, so we got a lift coming out,” said Brown. But it hasn’t been enough to  lift the city’s 350,000 unemployed workers and according to Brown, many working New Yorkers still aren’t making pre-recession wages.