Assume the Crash Position

The turbulence at Northwest Airlines has some people fearing the sky is falling. It could be the sound of ticket prices dropping.

Miller: Our experience is that the air cargo piece of it is not tied to the hub status. We've actually seen our cargo business grow dramatically since the loss of the hub status.

CP:How can a city like Minneapolis recover from a reduction in service, or worse, a hub loss?

Miller: If I were in Minneapolis in this job--I'm sure they're doing it there right now--I would be proactively developing plans for a worst-case scenario and figuring out how to backfill that service.

Having a range of carriers is a more secure position. I think that cities, though, just have to not panic when they get into this situation.

 

Donna Oliver, Travelplex, St. Louis

City Pages: American reduced its nonstop flights in and out of St. Louis in 2003 from 417 to 207. What's been the impact locally?

Oliver: The situation in St. Louis is pretty unique, because we had a large TWA base here. American acquired TWA [in 2001] with the promise that they would keep the hub and protect everyone's interests, that's how they approached it in Washington and that's how they approached it with the unions. But they've cancelled hundreds of flights, both since acquiring TWA and again in 2003.

CP:Have other airlines come in to fill the travel need?

Oliver: No. When somebody new tries to come in, the other airlines pounce all over it so they can't come in. American still has a large presence here, about 40 percent of all travelers, because they still have TWA. And unfortunately, a lot of people still have an allegiance to American because their frequent-flier miles transferred over from TWA. TWA had a mileage Mastercard, too, that went to American. That's how those big airlines keep you. It's just awful.

CP:So American hasn't kept any of its promises to St. Louis.

Oliver: Not at all. About half of the TWA employees lost jobs. Or they've all had to take pay cuts or move. When American first came in, they actually had a number employees could call if they saw their co-workers not doing things by the book. American is not a friendly airline. There's no customer-service portion.

CP:Have prices changed now that many passengers have to fly on connecting flights?

Oliver: I haven't seen a decrease in fares. They're pretty much what they were. And now there's a lot of problems with misconnecting because service by the major airlines is so bad.

CP:St. Louis's airport is in the process of expanding. Does this mean they're courting new carriers?

Oliver:They're hoping new carriers will come in, but I don't see any numbers that show that will work. As it is now, we have concourses that are empty.

 

JoAnn Jenny, Pittsburgh International Airport

City Pages:What were the immediate effects of losing the US Airways hub in November?

Jenny: We lost about 120 daily nonstop US Airways flights as a result. They went down to about 235 from about 355 a day.

CP:Traffic is down 24 percent from last year. Isn't that a dramatic decrease?

Jenny: We lost a lot of connecting traffic. But we actually attracted more competition, and we increased the number of flyers regionally. Airfares became better, and we attracted more flights. That's the problem with many hub cities: There's a monopoly, and many airlines won't compete with that. We've attracted a number of low-cost carriers, and Continental, United, and Delta have added flights.

CP:Are there destinations that are harder for passengers to get to now?

Jenny: We're still maintaining the top 50 destinations. A few smaller markets were cut. But there's been an increase in travel to markets like Atlanta, Chicago, and Philadelphia because the prices are so much more competitive.

CP:What has been the economic impact?

Jenny: While we've had cuts in flights, there's been an increase in origination passengers, so parking and rental-car revenues are up. It hasn't made up for the loss yet, but we're working on it.

CP:What advice would you give MSP airport in the event Northwest reduces flights out of the hub?

Jenny: It's going to prove challenging. From the airport's perspective, it's definitely survivable. The larger impact on a city is the number of [Northwest] job losses that would come with it.

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