Flight Blog

Feb 10 2015 You Wanna Fly Where?! BY sgf-adminTAGS Airlines, How the Airport Works

 

It’s the question we’re asked all the time …

“Does the airport have non-stop flights to __________ ?!

You can fill in that blank with the destination of your choice. I keep a list.  There’s Ft. Wayne, Indianapolis, Little Rock, Flagstaff, Hartford, Centralia, Illinois; Muncie, Eau Claire, the list goes on and on…

I’ve gradually realized that some folk have what amounts to a fantastic vision of how the airline business works. I’m not being critical — it’s just what they think.

Here’s how the vision goes …

“The airlines offer (or should offer) dozens of flights every day from Springfield. These flights fly non-stop to dozens of destinations in all fifty states.”

There’s just one problem …

That’s not how the airlines work —if an airline tried it would be bankrupt in about five minutes. Here’s what they do instead …

Rather than flying from Springfield to a whole bunch of places, the airlines fly from Springfield to a few “hub” cities. This is called hub and spoke flying. Let’s explain how it works by using American Airlines as an example.

Suppose you want to fly from Springfield to Amarillo. To get you there American flies you from Springfield to Dallas. At Dallas you get on another flight that takes you to Amarillo. In this scenario Springfield and

Amarillo are the “spokes,” and Dallas is the “hub.”

Take a look at the diagram. The “hub” is Dallas. The smaller cities are the "spokes." On any given day a handful of customers in each spoke city want to fly to Amarillo. Rather than provide a flight from each of those cities to Amarillo, American flies them to Dallas where they’re gathered up (from all those spoke cities) and then flown to Amarillo on a different flight. (Note: this diagram shows only a fraction of Dallas' spoke cities.)

I hope you noticed the bold face in the phrase, handful of customers. This is a key point. On any given day there aren’t enough people who want to fly to Amarillo, in each of those spoke cities, to justify the cost of a non-stop flight. So the airline gathers them in Dallas and then sends them on to Amarillo.

I talk to people on a regular basis who think there are tons of people who fly (or want to fly) from Springfield to places like Amarillo. The truth is surprising …

In 2013 an average of 1.2 people per day flew from Springfield to Amarillo.  That many people won’t fill the smallest plane that an airline is going to use — a 50 seat regional jet. Let’s put it another way: an airline isn’t going to fly that plane between Springfield and Amarillo if, on average, 48 seats are empty.

Now wait … there’s someone out there reading this who’s thinking, “If they had a non-stop flight to Amarillo more people would fly there!”

The airlines know from experience that “provide the service and they will come” rarely works. Just because the service is there doesn’t mean that the number of people who want to fly to Amarillo, on a daily basis, is going to change enough to make the route a money maker.

Let’s talk some more about passenger numbers and where those passengers want to go — because really, when you get right down to it, this is the nitty-gritty math that the airlines deal with …

Take a look at the top ten destinations for people flying from Springfield in 2013. The numbers represent passengers using the three airlines, serving Springfield, which have daily service: American, Delta, and United:


1. Atlanta:
avg number of people each day: 40.7. Non-stop

2. Dallas:
Avg number of people each day: 37.5. Non-stop

3. Chicago:
Avg number of people each day: 29.9. Non-stop

4. Los Angeles:
Avg number of people each day: 22.5. Must connect

5. Denver
Avg number of people each day: 21.3. Non-stop

6. New York City:
Avg number of people each day: 18.8. Must connect

7. Orlando:
Avg number of people each day: 16.2. Must connect

8. Seattle:
Avg number of people each day: 15.7. Must connect

9. Philadelphia:
Avg number of people each day: 15.3. Must connect

10. Boston:
Avg number of people each day: 14.6. Must connect


See the numbers for the average number of people each day? There aren’t enough people going to any single destination to fill one regional jet in Springfield.

Here’s another way of putting it: there aren’t enough people going anywhere to justify air service in Springfield.

So how come we have service? This gets complicated, so please bear with me …

The Springfield to Dallas service is the busiest route we have — approximately 400 people a day use it, but only 38 make Dallas their final destination. The rest take a connecting flight from Dallas to go to their final destination.

Let’s go back to our Amarillo example …

If we asked an airline for non-stop service to Amarillo, we’d politely be told, “No, it’s a money loser. You can already get there by connecting through Dallas.”

And the same goes for Ft. Wayne, Indianapolis, Little Rock, Flagstaff, Hartford Centralia, Illinois; Muncie and Eau Claire … and almost anywhere else we can name …

Here’s a bottom line point: at minimum, anytime we ask an airline for new daily service, it must be for a city that is a major airline hub. And to take it a step further ….

When an airline considers adding service from a small market, such as Springfield, to a big hub, it’s not asking how many people want to fly from Springfield to that hub airport. It’s asking how many people it can connect beyond the hub, and how much revenue will those connecting customers generate?

It’s complicated. Please ask questions ....

 


 

2014 was the fourth busiest year in the 69-year history of our airport. The total passenger count for the year: 846,324. That’s a 12% increase in passengers when compared to the year before.

Not only was 2014 one of the airport’s best years, it’s the best year we've had since the beginning of the recession. And it’s a strong indication that the local and national economies are improving.

The success of 2014 comes after several years of gloomy news in the airline and airport industries. The last time we had double digit growth was before the recession — in 2005. And for the past five years passenger numbers have been flat or negative ...

During the recession, and in its aftermath, airlines made big cuts at airports across the country and Springfield was no exception. In 2011 alone the airlines cut the supply of seats here by 21.5%. Since then supply has been flat. And that’s where we're bucking the trend ...

Airlines are actually bringing seats back to Springfield because they see strong demand here. In 2014 the airlines increased our number of available seats by 5.3%. Nationwide, airlines added 1.8%.

Will double digit passenger growth continue in 2015?

It’s doubtful — double digit growth isn’t the norm at any airport. In 2014 the airlines basically figured out that they’d cut too much in Springfield. So they spent the year putting seats back in the market. That helped grow our passenger numbers.

The airlines are bringing even more seats to Springfield in 2015. Advance schedules show a 4.5% increase for the first half of the year. Nationwide, the supply of seats will be up 1.8%.

That local increase is further evidence that the Springfield air market is stable and getting stronger.

 

 


 
The holidays are the time of year when infrequent (or first time) fliers fill the nation's airports. With that thought in mind the we offer the following tips for infrequent fliers -
 
  • Use an airline app. Nearly all airlines have free smart phone apps that let customers make and change reservations. The apps also offer real-time flight updates and downloadable boarding passes. Using an airline app can save lots of time at the airport.
     
  • Get to the airport early - at least an hour-and-a-half before your flight is scheduled to leave. That's generally plenty of time to get checked in, through security, and to the gate. You must be checked in to your flight no later than 30 minutes before departure.
     
  • Don't over-pack. Take only what you absolutely need -- an overstuffed bag can slow down the security screening process. Carry-on items can be no bigger than 9" X 14" X 22" or a total of 45 linear inches.
     
  • Before you get to the security screening line make sure you have a government issued photo ID if you're 18 or older. Make sure the name on your boarding pass matches the name on your photo ID.
     
  • Don't wrap presents. Security screeners may unwrap them for inspection.

Speaking of security screening ...
 
This holiday season sees a change in passenger security screening. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is now using millimeter wave scanners at the Springfield airport to screen passengers before they board the plane.
 
TSA says millimeter wave scanning reduces the need for physical pat downs and results in a smoother flow of passengers through the security checkpoint.
 
A millimeter wave scanner is a large booth with glass walls. Passengers step inside and hold their arms over their heads for a few seconds. The scanner looks for explosives and weapons without physical contact. It takes about 20 seconds to scan a person, while a pat-down takes two to four minutes.
 
Older versions of this technology caused privacy concerns because the screening images were anatomically correct. TSA officials say the new machines (image to the right) show generic outlines of people, without the anatomic detail.
 
If someone doesn't want to be scanned they can opt-out. According to TSA those opting out will be screened using "alternative methods," including a physical pat-down.
 

 

The last four months of the year are supposed to be slow times in the airport business. It's when vacations are over, the kids go back to school, and the number of people flying takes a proverbial dive. This year it's different at the Springfield airport — in September the total number of people using the airport rose 16.3 percent (that's compared to the same month last year). It's the best September performance since 2005 when the increase was 18 percent.

Delta Air Lines gets a lot of the credit for September's growth: on September 1 the airline began using a Boeing 717 for one of its five daily flights between Springfield and Atlanta. The bigger plane brought 60 more seats a day to Springfield. That meant that Delta grew its September passenger numbers in Springfield by 28.6 percent! But the other airlines grew their numbers too ...

 

AIRLINE SEPT. CHANGE IN TOTAL PASSENGERS
   
American + 21.8%
Delta + 28.6%
United + 3.3%
Allegiant + 3.7%

 

At this pace we'll have more than 800,000 total passengers by the end of the year. That's happened only four times in the airport's history: in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2009.

 


 

The number of people using the Springfield airport has been up since the first of year, but as the year progresses it’s becoming increasingly clear that the growth is not limited to Springfield. Other airports, approximately our size, are also seeing double digit growth.

It's worth mentioning because all of us have a tendency to view things from a local perspective. Even in today’s wired age it’s sometimes easy to forget that what happens in Southwest Missouri is tied to happenings across the nation, and the globe. Such is the case with airport passenger numbers.

Let’s take a look at total passenger growth at airports in the region, for the period January – August of this year:

  • (XNA) Northwest Arkansas: + %10.73
     
  • (FSM) Ft. Smith: + 6.77%
     
  • (LIT) Little Rock: - 5%
     
  • (TUL) Tulsa: + 4.6%
     
  • (SGF) Springfield-Branson: + 11.9%

Note that the airports with the largest growth are XNA and SGF. Besides similar growth numbers, both of these airports have something in common: from year to year they are roughly the same size in terms of passenger numbers and total number of commercial flights.

Now let’s look at passenger numbers for five airports that are much like ours in terms of population served, personal income, and per capita personal income. Here they are, along with their percentage change in passenger numbers for the period January-June, 2014:
 

AIRPORT CODE CITY

TOTAL PASSENGERS

Jan - June 2014

SOURCE
       
AVL Ashville, NC +12.5% Link
       
SGF Springfield, MO +12.1% Link
       
CRP Corpus Christi, TX +11.6% Link
       
SHV Shreveport, LA +9% Link
       
EUG Eugene, OR +2.89% Link
       
ROA Roanoke, VA -1% Link

 

So what’s the point? The point is that many airports our size are seeing significant growth this year; it’s not just happening in Springfield. There are several reasons for this, but I think there’s one that really stands out: between 2008 and 2011 the airlines made huge cuts at these airports (we saw a 22% cut in the number of available seats in 2011). The airlines cut back so much that passenger demand soon outpaced the number of available seats. So now the airlines are bringing seats back to these markets in order to meet demand.