Richmond Article


Aug 22, 2002
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From Richmond Times-Dispatch
AIRLINES: Some are feeling deja vu when it comes to AirTran
Monday, October 3, 2005

Will we change our flying habits enough to keep a low-fare airline in the nest?

That's been a recurring question since AirTran Airways started its much-ballyhooed (guilty as charged) takeoff at Richmond International June 23.

Some savvy travelers have questioned AirTran's limited schedule -- especially the twice-a-day flight to Philadelphia.

Atlanta, which gets four flights a day, appears to be doing a brisk business. Philly's not doing as well, according to firsthand accounts and some industry sources.

Business travelers have been clamoring for low-fare service to New York, the top destination from Richmond. But without an act of Congress, we're not likely to see any availability of landing spaces in New York-area airports.

So for now, AirTran's nonstop service is limited to Atlanta and Philadelphia, with a once-a-day flight to Orlando, Fla., planned for November. On Thursday, the airport said it would add a daily flight to Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 15, and a fifth daily flight to Atlanta on Nov. 16.

Charles Bryson, a Richmond security consultant, has asked AirTran to consider ways to counter other airlines' frequent flier programs -- often, he says, a reason why folks don't fly AirTran.

Why not give these frequent travelers extra "miles" to push them into AirTran's Elite status, thus countering the appeal of the competitors' programs. Elite status brings priority seating and a waiver of change fees on tickets.

"AirTran has a great product to offer and Richmond can be a tough nut to crack," he wrote to an AirTran marketing executive. "Lots of traditions and people resistant to change."

AirTran spokeswoman Judy Graham-Weaver said of his proposal, "It's something we do pretty often when we start in a new market [but] right now we do not have any plan to offer that in the Richmond area."

Some business travelers and academics worry that we may be on a déj? vu trip to 1999, when AirTran pulled out of Richmond after less than a year.

Of course, lots has happened to AirTran and the industry, so that may be an unfair comparison.

The head of the regional body that owns the airport -- the Capital Region Airport Commission -- expressed hope last week that AirTran's share of the market "is building slowly."

Chairman James B. Donati Jr. said he's been heartened by the support of the Chamber and others.

It's a delicate balancing act, though, as other airlines -- such as Delta and US Airways -- have a long history here, and lots of loyal customers.

"The business community is really promoting AirTran -- not exclusively, but we do need to use them," he said.

Will we use the carrier enough to avoid the fate of Greensboro, N.C., which AirTran left in mid-2004 after operating a similar schedule -- four flights a day to Atlanta?

It left Greensboro after a six-year stint. Considering the supersonic pace of change in the industry, it's doubtful that Richmond has six years to show it has the right stuff to keep AirTran.

Keep your ideas coming, and we'll see if any stick.

For instance, Richmond stockbroker Bill McCarthy said AirTran should switch to an earlier flight to Philadelphia to counter US Airways' offerings.

AirTran's earliest flight from here to Philly leaves at 7:05 a.m., with a second flight leaving at 4 p.m.

The 7:05 a.m. flight "drops you right in the middle of rush hour," McCarthy wrote in an e-mail. "By the time you get your rental [car], you are lucky to a make a 9:30" meeting.

AirTran also isn't getting people back to Richmond soon enough, he said. McCarthy's 6:55 p.m. flight from Philly had a mechanical problem, so after an hour or more delay, he didn't touch down here until around 9 p.m.

"I could have driven home" faster, he said.

One of the problems with AirTran and other discount airlines is a lack of backup planes, leaving you "up a creek" if a flight is canceled, McCarthy wrote.

"We do run a very lean operation. We don't keep aircraft around waiting -- so when we do have a problem with a flight, it does take a little time" to find a replacement plane, said AirTran's Graham-Weaver.

But as AirTran gets more planes, she added, "That will diminish. We're only making money when planes are flying. That's a key part of running a low-cost airline."


Aug 20, 2002
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airport said:
McCarthy's 6:55 p.m. flight from Philly had a mechanical problem, so after an hour or more delay, he didn't touch down here until around 9 p.m.

"I could have driven home" faster, he said.


Hmmmm.... PHL-RIC is about 250 miles by road, through Baltimore and DC, according to Mapblast. He really thinks he could've driven faster than 2 hours, including the delay? Gotta love the media. Nobody challenged the false assertion.


May 18, 2003
I really think FL needs to compete more agressively with US on PHL-RIC or it is going to go the same way PHL-PIT went. Look at PHL-BOS, it is a very saturated market and FL started with 3 flts a day, they were up to 5 for a short time and now will be up to 7. For a route that seemed like it was on the verge of suspension due to the few options given with only 3 flts a day it appears to be doing much better now that paxs have more flexability with departure times.

Now PHL-BOS and PHL-RIC are two vastly different markets, but if FL wants to gain a foothold on the route they will have to competively schedule and possibly offer more than just 2 flts a day.


Aug 22, 2002
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I think it is hard to do well in a market with only 2 flights, unless the market is Orlando or New York. Time is valuable to a business flyer, so if you don't have mid-day or afternoon options, then you have problems..particularly in a strong business market like Richmond-Philly. Richmonders may complain about the US fares, but they seem to pay them and take advantage of the flexibility.

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