New York remains top U.S. port of entry

Through the first nine months of this year, overseas visitors passed mostly through only 15 ports of entry. These spots, according to the Department of Commerce accounted for 84 percent of entry traffic into the United States, gaining two percentage points over the first nine months of 2008. New York‘s JFK airport, Miami and Los Angeles dominated, pulling in 39 percent of all arrivals, up a percentage point from the same period last year.

Only four of the top 15 ports of entry in the United States saw traffic increase year-over-year: Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia and Fort Lauderdale. Of the 11 that posted declines, three did so at a double-digit rate. Visitation through Chicago fell a whopping 18 percent, which pushed it to seventh on the list, behind Honolulu. Houston fell a mere 3 percent, bringing up to #12, ahead of Boston. Philadelphia’s 6 percent gain moved it to #14, and a 3 percent increase in traffic through Fort Lauderdale brought it into the top 15 at the bottom spot. Detroit‘s 36 percent fall in overseas arrivals caused it to fall from the top 15.

Top U.S. ports of entry

Eighty-six percent of international arrivals to the United States come through only 15 ports of entry, according to data from the Department of Transportation. This represents an increase of one percentage point over last year (measuring the first five months of 2008 to the first five months of 2009.

The top three ports of entry are hardly surprising: New York (specifically JFK), Miami and Los Angeles. How insane is it that the leading first impression of our country is in Queens?! These three spots were responsible for 40 percent of all arrivals so far this year. Their share of all international arrivals – trending with the top 15 – increased by roughly one percentage point year-over-year. Miami, Orlando and Philadelphia were the only members of this group to post increases.

Six of the top 15 ports of entry into the United States sustained double-digit decreases in arrivals. The stream through San Francisco is off 18 percent, moving it into the #6 position on the list (behind Honolulu). Detroit dropped 32 percent, pushing it to fifteenth, behind Boston and Philadelphia, and Agana, Guam fell 9 percent, putting it behind Chicago on the list.

Shark shutdown looms in Hawaii

Some native Hawaiians are looking to bring an end to shark tours, despite their popularity among tourists. They cite cultural concerns, according to a report by MSNBC, while surfers and environmentalists are worried that the animals could begin to associate people with lunchtime. Meanwhile, federal regulators are doing what they do best … investigating.

Of course, tourists don’t respond all that well to arguments made from cultural sensitivity. But, the notion that they could wind up fish food is gaining some momentum. George Burgess, who researches sharks at the University of Florida, believes that sharks will go where they are fed daily, which could deplete other forms of marine life in these areas … and leave populations elsewhere unchecked. There is conflicting research from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

Federal law generally doesn’t allow shark-feeding off Pacific island territories and Hawaii, but this doesn’t stop the tour operators, which claim to be operating within the law.


On-time airline improvements continue, third month in a row

Airlines in the United States posted an improved on-time performance rate in April relative to the same month the year prior – stretching their streak to three. The 19 largest airlines were on time 79.1 percent of the time in April 2009, compared to 77.7 percent in April 2008. The industry also performed better than it did in March 2009, showing a month-to-month improvement from 78.4 percent. An on-time arrival is defined as being within 15 minutes of the scheduled time … which has already been buffered comfortably by the airlines.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 7.4 percent of April delays resulted from aviation system issues. Late-arriving aircraft caused 6.2 percent, and factors within the airline’s control (e.g., maintenance or crew problems) accounted for 4.8 percent. Extreme weather and security together didn’t even account for 1 percent of delays. The most delayed flight was Northwest Airlines Flight 803 from Atlanta to Honolulu. It was late 97 percent of the time.

The DOT also found that:

  • Cancellation rates improved to 1.5 percent in April 2009 – from 1.7 percent in April 2008 and 2.1 percent in 2009.
  • Nearly 50 flights had taxi-time waits of greater than three hours
  • Mishandled baggage rates improved to 3.79 per 1,000 from 4.99 in April 2008 and 4.12 in March 2009

Customers complained to the DOT 781 times about airline service, compared to 1,112 in April 2008. But, it was up from the 705 the previous month.

So, the airlines are generally posting some positive numbers – Fight 803 notwithstanding. Why? Are we looking at a vast improvement across an entire industry … an industry that clearly can’t afford to invest in doing a better job?

Let’s not go crazy, here.

The airlines are doing a better job because they don’t have to deal with as many people. Fewer asses are occupying seats, which eases the burden of boarding passengers, pushing back on time and keeping track of their luggage. Ironically, success is the path to failure, as selling more seats would give airlines an operational burden they’ve proved they’re ill-equipped to handle.