Flight Blog

Jul 31 2009 Record Low Fares Nationwide BY adminTAGS Fares

 

"Airline prices are falling at an unprecedented rate even though carriers have slashed capacity, new data show."

 

That's the lede in a story from the Chicago Tribune. The story continues, "The average cost of a plane ticket within the U.S. plunged 9.1 percent to $315 during the first three months of 2009, the largest quarter-to-quarter drop ever recorded by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics."

 

The word on low fares in finally getting a lot of media attention. It's probably one of the reasons why our June passenger numbers were so high. Interestingly, though, I've had a few people come up and tell that the low fare phenomena is isolated to Southwest Missouri and that the Branson airport deserves all the credit.

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We found this email today:

 

“I recently had to fly to Springfield airport to see my son graduate from Fort Leonard Wood.  When getting directions to get back to the airport to leave Missouri it gave me directions to your "old" airport.  Amongst myself and my friend there were a few other people at the "old" airport waiting for their flight.  This is VERY confusing and we almost missed our flight after realizing it didn't look the same as the one we landed at.  There should be something done so when getting directions you are not lead to the "old" airport and taken only to the "new" airport!”

 

Early last year we identified this issue as our biggest public relations challenge. Remember the scenario we faced? The old terminal would close on the evening of May 5. The new terminal would open on the morning of May 6. We knew someone would show-up at the old terminal on the morning of May 6 and that they would end-up missing their flight. To get the word out we put together a multi-faceted plan to spread the word about the move:

 

  • We spoke to as many civic groups as possible
  • We advertised on broadcast TV
  • We advertised on cable TV
  • We advertised on radio
  • We advertised on local media web sites
  • We advertised in local magazines
  • We advertised in the newspaper
  • We used this blog
  • We used the airport web site
  • We used an email blast service
  • We passed out informational flyers in the old terminal
  • We worked with local news organizations
  • We coordinated with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) to get directional signs changed on state highways

We did all these things and more. By the time May 6 rolled around we achieved what I call “media saturation.” The advertising was everywhere. Local news organizations did an outstanding job—they gave us what the news industry calls, “wall to wall coverage.”

 

Well, guess what? On May 6 a bunch of people showed up at the old terminal looking for an airplane. They’re still doing it…

 

To a certain degree it’s understandable. After all, the old terminal location served for 64 years. Old habits are hard to break. On the other hand, it seems that some folk are oblivious to the world around them.

 

A week after the new terminal opened, I stood near the driveway entrance of the old terminal. The drive was block by red traffic cones. A big electronic message sign stood next to the cones. It gave directions to the new terminal. A customer pulled up in their car. They got out, moved the cones, and parked in the nearly empty parking lot. Then they walked to the front of the deserted terminal, bags in hand, and tried to enter. The doors were locked; the customer was stunned...

 

Later that day I watched several people pull up in front of the old terminal. They got out of their car and, without exception, just stood there. They looked at the locked doors. They looked up and down the empty horseshoe drive. Paper blew in the driveway; everything was deserted. They had looks of disbelief. It was reminiscent of a scene from the Twilight Zone—they were the only people left after the nuclear holocaust.  Keep in mind they had just ignored an electronic message sign and had moved traffic cones so they could get in the drive…

 

More recently we’ve had a huge sign in the middle of the old terminal driveway. It’s eight feet long, four feet tall and mounted on a barricade. People have to slow down and drive carefully around it. In big letters it tells people that the building is closed. It has a map and directions. We attached two plastic boxes to the sign. They contain printed maps showing the way to the new terminal. Earlier this week an airport police officer watched a car load of people creep by the sign. They stopped, got out, and asked the officer what was going on; where is everyone? He pointed to the sign. They hadn’t noticed it…

 

Of course, many people tell us that we need to put up some signs…

 

To be fair about the sign issue, we have to agree with the assessment that the directional signs on the state highways (all the roads leading to the airport are owned by the state) are inadequate. MoDOT has plans to put up more and bigger signs leading to the new terminal. But even after that’s done, mark my words, people will still show up at the old terminal…

 

This blog entry is long-winded, but almost over. Just one more thing to mention: GPS units. You know, global positioning system units...had no idea how many people depend on those things to get from point A to point B. They get in their car, turn on the GPS and tell it to take them to the Springfield airport. It takes them to the old terminal...

 

Technology has led them astray. But some how, some way, it’s the airport’s fault. Just ask them...

 

We’re told by the big mapping companies that it will take 18-24 months for GPS units to catch-up. And that assumes GPS owners will update their software…

 

And then there’s the matter of the bum directions given out by Google Maps and MapQuest…but wait…this blog entry is long enough!

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June 2009 was the second busiest month in the history of our airport.  The total passenger count: 85,976. Our number one month was June of 2005: 88,024.

 

June’s numbers were up ten percent over the same month last year. It marks the fourth consecutive month of growth and comes at a time of declining passenger numbers across the country. The only other major nearby airport experiencing growth is the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. It reported its June numbers up 3.9 percent. Passenger numbers were down at the airports in Tulsa, Kansas City and St. Louis.

 

Our growth comes despite cuts in service and significantly fewer flights than last year—the the airlines have cut across the board because of the recession. Delta dropped our service to Detroit at the end of April and American cut our daily number of flights to Dallas from nine to seven. That translates to 15 percent fewer flights this June than last. So why are we doing so well? There isn't any one reason—it's a combination of things:

 

  • The fare sales the airlines have had since the early spring.
  • Between January and May 6 the Springfield media market was saturated with advertising and news stories about the new terminal. This undoubtedly raised awareness of the airport and caused some people to check out the cost of fares. When they discovered how low they were, they jumped!
  • The new Branson airport. Our analysis of fares shows that American Airlines has decided to compete with the Sun Country Airlines service between the Branson airport and Dallas. That's resulted in American fare between Springfield and Dallas for less than $200. That's great news! Unfortunately, the other airlines in Springfield are ignoring the Branson airport.
  • Allegiant Air. The boom in Allegiant service has been amazing. In June Allegiant had 17 flights a week out of Springfield and moved more than 10,000 passengers. The airline's June passengers numbers were up 37 percent over the same month last year.
  • The relative strength of the Southwest Missouri economy. To put it simply, our economy is doing better than most of the country. That translates into more air travel.
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Jul 27 2009 Bag Fees Up (again) BY adminTAGS Airlines

 

It's a sure sign that the airlines are hurting financially: they're hiking bag fees again.

 

On Friday American Airlines announced the cost of checking the first bag will go up from $15 to $20, effective on trips booked after mid-August. But wait, there's more: the cost of a second checked bag on American will go up from $25 to $30.

 

American's boost follows bag fee increases at U.S. Airways, Continental, Delta and United.

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old terminal image

Lately we've received several questions about the fate of the old passenger terminal. What's to become of it? Will it be torn down? Will it be leased?

 

We can't tear it down. Since it was partially funded with federal aviation dollars, it can't be torn down without permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  But that's a non-issue. We don't want to tear it down; it's a valuable airport resource. Here's why: we can lease the building and generate a new revenue stream that is not related to aviation. That's incredibly important. Here's why...

 

Airport’s have many revenue streams. Here are few at ours:

 

  • Landing fees charged per commercial airline plane that lands
  • Office space rental to airlines, rental car companies, restaurant, etc.
  • Percentage of gross revenue of rental car companies, restaurant, etc.
  • Parking fees

Notice how they all have one thing in common—they’re related to aviation. Or to put it another way, the quality of these revenue streams is directly related to the health of the aviation business. If the airlines are doing poorly, these revenue streams decline.

 

A growing trend in the airport industry is to become less dependent upon aviation related revenue streams. It’s the smart thing to do—particularly in a time when the airline business is extremely volatile (like right now!).

 

Here's the bottom line: non-aviation revenue puts the Airport in a better position to weather the hard times faced by the airlines. And the healthier the Airport's finances, the healthier the overall economy of Southwest Missouri. As any economic development person will tell you, a healthy airport, along with its ability to move people in and out, is fundamental to community business recruitment and job attraction.

 

Okay, okay, that's a long answer to a simple question. So when are going to lease it? Probably before the end of the year. We're currently in negotiations with an entity that wants the entire space.

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