TALKING TOURISM: Match expectations to airline carrier choice

This article first appeared in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday, July 9, 2017.

Delta 1, Transatlantic service
Don’t expect this on every flight!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last week we started looking at different kinds of airlines and their effect on tourism. There’s always a danger of assuming, just because they fly planes and transport people, they’re all the same. That’s no more true than saying that staying at the Hyatt Regency is the same as a night in a budget motel.

Here along Florida’s northern Gulf Coast, we’re served by a number of airlines with different business models aimed at various markets and needs. We each have our favorites and I don’t intend to criticize any of them, just to point out some differences.

Each of our local airports is served by what are termed legacy carriers — American, Delta and United. These three companies are the result of years of consolidation, takeovers and mergers. Each has a huge network of international, domestic trunk and local routes. In many cases, they operate on a hub-and-spoke principal (it’s said, with a smile, that all routes go via Atlanta, Dallas or Houston!). In fact, you may find that your local legacy carrier flight is operated by a contracted “partner” airline. For example, American Eagle, Delta Connection or United Express are all operated by other airlines, but under their partner’s colors; they are different aircraft types and crews than “main line” services. It’s the reason you can expect a whole different experience flying say Destin to Dallas, than you would Dallas to San Francisco, or Dallas to Sydney, Australia.

We also have Southwest Airlines, a popular low-cost airline. They don’t need to support a worldwide network (yet) by funneling business into hubs, and although they do chase business traffic, it’s not their prime market. We’re not served by Jet Blue or Spirit, which also are both low-cost carriers, but all these airlines have different policies for what they provide within the fare, and for what they charge (baggage, food, etc). Of course, the legacy carriers also compete for the budget market, so on their aircraft you may find frills and space, few frills and little space, or no frills and no space depending on how much you paid.

Also flying into the Gulf Coast is Allegiant Airlines. They may be termed a low-cost airline, but it would be more appropriate to call them a leisure carrier. They aim to attract vacationers from predominantly urban and cooler areas and take them to sunny vacation places. Allegiant is more in the model of the European leisure airlines. They’re really a full travel company, selling not just flights, but tours and accommodations, too.

Finally, we have the airlines like GLO, Silver and Contour, which operate smaller aircraft on less-traveled routes, like New Orleans and Bowling Green. They provide a great service for local business travelers and vacationers.

So, we have to manage our expectations and match them to our needs and pocket book, just as we do with our other tourism choices. We should also look at how air travel has transformed tourism, but that’s for another day.

Martin Owen is an independent consultant to the tourism industry and owner of Owen Organization in Shalimar. Readers can email questions to martin@owenorganization.com.

Talking Tourism: Lesser-used facilities open gateways to cheaper travel

This article originally appeared in the Northwest Florida Daily News.

I recently had to take a flight back to England, and this allowed me time to give some thought to the changing face of aviation and its effect on tourism. Air services and airlines have been at the center of the explosion for tourism — not only worldwide, but within the U.S.

To many of us, all airlines are the same and essentially just a way of getting from one place to another. We tend to expect them all to provide the same sort of services and behave in the same way. There are, however, as many different sorts of airlines as there are different sorts of hotels and accommodations. Each matches the particular needs of varying sets of travelers.

For the business traveler, flights at the right time, that are on time and the ability to work while flying are probably more important than price. For the leisure traveler on a budget, price is the most important factor, with fast inflight Wi-fi and lots of leg room worth sacrificing. When I was involved in selling flights from the U.K. to Australia for vacationers, if our advertised price was $5 more than a competitor’s, our phones simply didn’t ring — and that was when the average price was around $1,200. Our lead-in price had to be $499 to get people to call.

I mention all this because a recent entry into the transatlantic flight market is stirring things up. Norwegian Airlines has been a “low-cost carrier” since 2002 and now serves 150 destinations around the world. Although they term themselves low-cost, they emphasize low fares with excellent service. Many in this category of airlines in the U.S. have achieved lower costs by using one kind of aircraft and cutting inflight service, meals and charging for what they term optional extras — like baggage! Norwegian claims instead that new efficient aircraft and a lean operation is their answer. They also fly to some interesting destinations.

For example, they not only fly from Gatwick Airport in London to both JFK in New York and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey, but also fly to Stewart International Airport, a lesser used facility 70 miles north of the Big Apple. They fly to Boston, but also to Providence, and not just to Los Angeles, but also Oakland.

By using lesser known gateways, they can keep their prices low. That leads me to think that the Panama City, Pensacola or Destin-Fort Walton Beach airports could be interesting potential gateways for a carrier like Norwegian. They can offer the Europeans low cost airports, fantastic beaches, great weather, access to the northern Gulf Coast, and the whole Southeast of the U.S. In return, that would also give us locals access to European destinations at bargain prices. Someone call the folks at Norwegian Air!

Of course, there are other airline types — legacy carriers, flag carriers, tourist and leisure airlines, main-line services, commuter and feeder lines, intrastate and regional carriers. All have different ways of getting us from here to there. We’ll look at differences in coming weeks.

Martin Owen is an independent consultant to the tourism industry and owner of Owen Organization in Shalimar. Readers can email questions to martin@owenorganization.com.