For many Cornellians, traveling home during school breaks requires booking a flight out of a local airport. Only five miles away from Cornell, the Ithaca Tompkins International Airport is one such option. Flights leave Ithaca every day for Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport, providing travel options to those cities, which can serve as hubs to fly to larger airports for students who live across the country or internationally.
But those flights are set to change this March as the Ithaca airport moves to scrap its service to Washington Dulles in exchange for a new route to Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey. United Airlines is the only airline providing service from Ithaca to either Newark or Washington, D.C. at this time.
Changes to the Ithaca airport’s flights are nothing new. The lack of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic hit the air travel industry hard as flights were shut down and travel screeched to a halt. United Airlines stalled its flights between Ithaca and Dulles in early 2020. With the progress made by COVID-19 vaccines in early 2021, Ithaca resumed flights to Dulles in June of that year.
Air travel directly from Ithaca to Newark is a relatively new service. In 2018, United Airlines replaced its direct flights between Ithaca and Newark with its current program of direct flights between Ithaca and Dulles, with two daily nonstop flights. At the time, Ithaca Airport Director Mike Hall cited an increase in reliability in flying into Dulles as opposed to Newark.
Now, a shortage of pilots has prompted United Airlines to once again change its service to the Ithaca airport, as well as to other regional airports.
Sage Michel ’24, a sophomore from Winter Park, Colorado, often flies out of the Ithaca airport to return home. Michel said she would like to see Ithaca expand flights to airports across the country.
“It would be nice to have more direct flights [out of Ithaca] because … they are very limited in where they go,” Michel said.
Michel expressed ambivalence about whether new flights to Newark would ease her travels.
“I could potentially [use these new flights] because I have family in the New York area,” Michel said. “But I probably wouldn’t.” Michel cited Newark being out of the way as a reason for not taking the new flights.
Other students, like Justin Botros ’25, said that this change will have little impact on their travel plans.
“I don’t really think [the change] is the best thing because it probably limits students traveling further away,” Botros said, who flies home to Los Angeles, California fairly often.
However, Botros also said that the policy would likely have little effect on his personal travel plans, since he always flies to Charlotte Douglas International Airport and then on to Los Angeles from there.
Many Cornell students opt to not use the Ithaca airport at all, flying out of the Syracuse Hancock International Airport in Syracuse, New York — which is just over an hour from Cornell by car and offers non-stop flights to 23 cities — instead.
“I only have flown out of Syracuse,” said Bradley Wang ’25, who also lives in Los Angeles, California. “It’s not too far [from Cornell], and since Ithaca is a much smaller airport than Syracuse, there are less flights and the flights are at more inconvenient times.”
Flight pricing is also a significant factor in student travel decisions, according to Wang.
“Going back to [Los Angeles] for winter break from Ithaca was $600, and Syracuse was $300,” Wang said. “The price difference isn’t worth it for the convenience of the Ithaca airport, especially when OurBus goes directly to the Syracuse airport multiple times a day for usually less than $50.”
With changes to Ithaca’s flight schedule going into effect this month, time will tell whether the change makes the airport more appealing to students or sends them flying to Syracuse instead.