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Greater Richmond Chamber urges support for low-fare carriers

Commentary by Kim Scheeler, President and CEO Greater Richmond Chamber

Once upon a time a flight from Richmond to Disneyland would have cost you double in airfare than what you pay now.

What changed? After a decade-long effort, Richmond secured low-fare airlines, AirTran (2005) and JetBlue (2006). Competition between airlines increased, and fares decreased significantly.

RIC, once one of the top three most expensive airports in the country, is now considered to be an airport with competitively-priced airfares. Thanks to the presence of AirTran and JetBlue, the $800 airfare to Atlanta and the $1,100 airfare to New York are a thing of the past.

On Dec. 1, the Greater Richmond Chamber launched the Save Low Fares campaign to ensure airline competition remains in Richmond. The campaign urges travelers to fly AirTran and JetBlue, the low-cost airlines that are solely responsible for more than a 40 percent reduction in airfares during the past five years.

An economic impact study conducted by Chmura Economics and Analytics conservatively estimates that AirTran and JetBlue are saving Richmond citizens roughly $80 million per year in ticket costs. A large portion of those savings, plus a boost in passenger traffic as a result of more affordable fares, have significantly increased spending in the region, to the tune of at least $50 million. A large part of that spending benefits the area’s restaurant, hotel and entertainment businesses, affecting jobs and the overall economy.

However, since their arrival, Richmond travelers have not sufficiently supported AirTran and JetBlue. Instead, Richmonders have continued to fly to places like New York and Atlanta mostly on Delta and US Airways but at reduced fares due to the presence of the low-fare carriers.

As a result, low fares are at risk in Richmond. Take, for example, air service to New York. JetBlue recently discontinued its service to New York, and fares have skyrocketed 230 percent. For the first time since 2006, Richmond does not have a low-fare airline serving New York, and area travelers are paying the consequences.

Now it’s our job to keep low-fare airlines here. This campaign is really about saving Richmonders money.

While there are clear economic benefits for business and the community, most important, that trip to Disney or a visit from grandmother could cost double in airfares again unless Richmonders support competition by traveling on AirTran and JetBlue.

Southwest Airlines’ plans to acquire AirTran make support for low-fare airlines even more critical. The Save Low Fares campaign is encouraging travelers to fly on AirTran now to demonstrate to Southwest that Richmond will support its low-fare service in the future. Southwest will be evaluating AirTran’s performance as it decides the number of flights and destinations it will commit to Richmond.

It’s time to prove to these low-fare airlines that we will support them now and in the future. Book your tickets wisely. The fate of low airfares in Richmond is hanging in the balance.

Article link: http://www.chesterfieldobserver.com/news/2010-12-29/Opinions/Greater_Richmond_Chamber_urges_support_for_lowfare.html

Campaign Update

The Save Low Fares campaign is reaching out to the Richmond business community for action, and they are responding by flying on the low-cost carriers more often. AirTran and JetBlue's load factors on their primary business routes- Atlanta and Boston, respectively- are matching or surpassing legacy airline competitors' for the same destinations. Companies and organizations across the Region are aiding in the effort and making a difference. They are encouraging employees to fly on AirTran and JetBlue, even if it's up to $100 more expensive.

In addition, the four major jurisdictions-Chesterfield, City of Richmond, Hanover, and Henrico- in the region have come together and expressed their support for the campaign, each adopting resolutions in support of airline competition and the use of low-cost carriers. And, the Richmond Regional Planning District Commission, the Richmond Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, Greater Richmond Partnership, Retail Merchants Association, as well as campaign champion Greater Richmond Chamber are behind the effort.

We have made significant progress, but there is still work to be done. Richmonders need to keep supporting our low cost carriers so they will maintain and expand their flight schedules. Your support for AirTran now also will send a loud and clear message that Richmond will be great city for Southwest.