CLEARING THE AIR

Byline: David Grant Caplan

NEW YORK — Over the past year, LaGuardia Airport here has morphed into a nightmare for many business travelers. As a result of a Congressional move to allow more flights into the transportation hub — the closest airport to the garment district — it has gained the dubious distinction of being number one in delays in the U.S.
For folks in the fashion industry who need to get in and out of New York quickly, the threat of delayed flights — which can mean a missed sales meeting and losing millions of dollars — has made taking the longer cab ride into Newark International Airport or John F. Kennedy International Airport a more appealing option.
“We’re very leery about flying out of LaGuardia to our shows because it seems that they are always canceling a lot of flights there,” said Lloyd Singer, New York-based president of sales for ABS by Allen Schwartz. “Our people have to be at a specific time at a specific place, so we look to send people out of Newark or Kennedy.”
The lines on the runways at the 680-acre airport got longer last year, after Congress passed a law allowing an unlimited number of new flights to under-served markets. After the surging traffic caused LaGuardia to beat out Chicago’s O’Hare as the nation’s worst airport for delays, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the independent agency that operates the airport, attempted to curb congestion by imposing a ban on new regional flights during peak hours.
The Federal Aviation Administration followed in February by reducing the number of new flights and assigning landing slots through a lottery system.
The restrictions appear to be working: according to the FAA, volume-related delays decreased that month by 575 flights, compared with January.
Despite the decrease in delays at LaGuardia, many fashion-industry nomads said they prefer to travel out of nearby airports.
Jonathan Cea, executive vice president of New York-based Pepe Jeans London, heads to Newark, even though it’s a longer drive than the eight miles from Midtown to LaGuardia.
“LaGuardia is always more crowded, more congested, more people overbook and no matter where you are going or what class you go, there is always a little scene right before — people are screaming and yelling,” he said.
Missed flights are not the only thing that worries fashion executives about the airport.
Sallie Scripter, vice president of sales for Marc by Marc Jacobs, has experienced a casualty — one of her favorite carry-on bags.
“It went through the X-ray machine and got a big gash in one of my favorite handbags,” she said. “It was mutilated+I was mortified — I’m still devastated over the whole incident.”
Designer James Purcell lives in Queens, about 15 minutes away from LaGuardia. But, he said, for the last two years he has mostly been flying out of Islip, in Suffolk County in eastern Long Island.
“I used to to take the last flight of the day to Chicago on American and it never went on time during the last year,” he said. “Islip is a very quiet airport; it’s one of those airports where you just drive right up and just get on the plane.”
LaGuardia does have a loyal — but small — stable of fans.
“It’s very good to fly out of LaGuardia,” said Sherrie Krantz, who runs the Vivianlives.com Web site. “I’ve been lucky that I’ve never really had a delay.”
Jay Gorman, vice president of sales for junior brands Dollhouse and Jou Jou said that “the draw to LaGuardia is the convenience+it is easy to get in and out very quickly since the traffic isn’t that bad.”
While most fashion-conscious travellers may not be fans of LaGuardia, designer Kenneth Cole has acknowledged the airport’s importance for New Yorkers.
Printed on some of the airport’s baggage carousels are Kenneth Cole ads featuring sayings, such as: “What are you waiting for?” and “What Comes Around+”
Andrea Hyde, senior vice president of marketing for Kenneth Cole Productions, said: “LaGuardia is part of our lives so we try to make the best of it+.why not make it a little bit prettier while you have to sit there and wait for luggage.”

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