Schedule changes, airline consolidation, general economics 101, all adds up to a less than rosy picture for many smaller airports. Here are the details
I'll do a gist
To reverse years of declining traffic and fewer flights, Huntsville International Airport last year decided to offer its few remaining airlines incentives if they enhanced service to the small, northern Alabama city.
The airlines were furious.
The plan, drawn up last summer, would set aside up to $5 million this year in potential rewards for airlines that added flights, lowered fares or otherwise encouraged Huntsville fliers to use its airport instead of air fields in nearby cities. But frustrated by what it saw as lapses in customer service, Huntsville also said it would charge different landing fees for airlines, depending on whether they met service thresholds, such as prompt luggage handling.
The airlines responded that Huntsville's plan violated federal law barring governments from interfering with airline fares, routes or service levels. They feared that the standards would unleash a patchwork of benchmarks at other airports, and Airlines for America, the industry's largest trade group, threatened to sue.
Huntsville backed down last month.
The episode highlights the huge difficulties that smaller airports have attracting service, which has dwindled outside the biggest cities as airlines cut less-profitable flights. U.S. airlines reduced the number of scheduled domestic flights by 14% from 2007 through 2012, with midsize and small airports the hardest hit, according to a study last year by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The airport in Des Moines, Iowa, lost 22% of its flights, according to the study. Flights decreased 24% in Burlington, Vt., and 28% in Columbia, S.C.
There have been a few success stories more recently. The two-gate Trenton-Mercer Airport near Trenton, N.J., without offering incentives has gone in two years from no commercial airline service to becoming the East Coast base for budget carrier Frontier Airlines Inc.
The MIT study found that the number of Huntsville flights dropped 18% over the five years through 2012.
Anadyr, thanks for posting a recap of the story, which sounded interesting, but I too am not a WSJ subscriber.
It is very irritating to me that airlines are so reticent to set service level standards (service? what a concept!) I don't know what I would do without Alaska Airlines. Life would be a drag here at FAT without them. They'll happily fly me to SAN for $69 one way (sometimes less) , where as AA will fly me to LAX for $148 one way (and for sure happily also, considering they charge twice the airfare to SAN on AS , and LAX being about 120 miles closer than SAN.) I have to fly UA to SFO, which is never a problem (coming back and having to deal with UA's incompetence at the domestic terminal at SFO is an entirely different story, but I digress.) I know that AS flies in and out of MRY as well for a pretty good price point.
AS has a ground policy whereby they guarantee baggage delivery within 20 minutes of gate arrival or else your bags fly free on your next flight (actually, a $25 voucher is provided, which can be used for any AS product.) That's just one of their service level standards, because it's simply good business.
I am all for airlines being able to make a profit, but my point is that I just don't understand how an airline could have the audacity to be furious because they are being offered incentives which involve good customer service. Really? No wonder I prefer QF, LH and AF over AA, DL and UA for travel abroad to Europe and the Commonwealth of Nations. And I'll fly an AS B739ER cross country over an AA or DL wide body any day. My way of saying, "Thanks AS for keeping us Fresnans in air travel."
Airlines look at the bottom line, as you would expect. Furnishing air service to every commercial city is not an option. As I posted in the past, the flight time from Monterey (MRY) to San Francisco is about 45 minutes. The cost can be as high as 1451 dollars r/t depending on demand, etc.
UAL decided today to eliminate the nonstop from MRY to DEN effective June 5th. Rationale: none given but I suspect that it was not a profitable route for them. And so it goes.
I do understand the sometimes prohibitive costs involved in flying to smaller markets, and of course do not begrudge any business or industry that chooses to not enter any market that will not yield a sustainable or viable threshhold for profit. I just don't understand how they can be "furious" over incentives to provide better service at locations where they may consider choosing to fly, especially at little or no extra cost for said better service. In the case of AS baggage policy for instance, it's a total win/win. They can't lose, their customers can't lose.
Essential Air Service (EAS) is something that is used quite often by smaller cities where airlines have completely pulled out. Victoria, Texas, has EAS from IAH-VCT using a PA31 operated by Sun Air International.
Victoria, Texas has EAS from IAH-VCT using a PA31
I like the Huntsville approach and would love to see it implemented nationwide.