ANDY THOMAS: Flying High: Delta Service Nice, But Prices a Bit Steep
I love the fact that the three-character airline symbol for our airport is "SOP," which obviously is an abbreviation for "Southern Pines." But when you use that identifier on the Internet, the result is "Pinehurst."
These flights reminded me that in a little over a month we will have our own air service out of Pinehurst/Southern Pines. A welcomed service indeed. When we started coming to Pinehurst in 1995, we used the former US Airways commuter from Charlotte a lot. Then we began to use other airports such as Raleigh-Durham and Greensboro. To fly into SOP, I seem to recall that there was about an extra $100 per passenger for a round trip.
On Thursday of the 1999 U.S. Open, I had finished marshaling for the day and called my wife in Boston and encouraged her to come on down for the remainder of the tournament. She had been committed to attend our god-daughter's graduation at Stanford but was back home then.
Casting any respect for frugality aside, I bought her a short-term ticket from Boston to SOP for $825. Outlandish, I know, but it was our 40th anniversary. And we both were glad afterward that we had splurged.
We've been traveling a lot these past few years and, as we get older, would rather fly than drive -- especially when going up the East Coast to New Jersey or New England.
The hassle between Fredericksburg, Va., and Baltimore, and then the traffic on the Garden State at rush hour, are major deterrents.
The last time we did that drive, it cost me $400 for a traffic ticket outside Manassas, Va. -- $200 for the ticket and $200 for the lawyer I needed to represent me in court. Alas, I was speeding, 75 mph in a 65 mph zone.
So we're frequent fliers now and don't mind it too much. Since late last year, we have flown to California twice, then Boston. Next month we fly to New Jersey, followed by a solo trip for me to Hartford in July. Then to Montana in early August, followed by September and October trips to Boston and a flight to Portugal in early October.
So I guessed we were pretty good candidates for the new Delta service from SOP connecting through ATL (Atlanta). But that was before we looked at the prices posted on the Web.
To summarize, Delta will begin operating a flight into and out of SOP once a day, beginning June 22, via one of their connection lines. The airplane will be CRJ (Canadair Regional Jet) 200 with a passenger load of 40 seats. Flights will leave ATL at 9:30 a.m. and arrive SOP at 10:45 a.m., returning to ATL at 11:10 a.m. and arriving there at 12:28 p.m.
Atlanta is a huge airline hub allowing connections to most anywhere in the world. Delta claims it is the only airline that serves all 50 United States. Introductory fares to Chicago (ORD) and Los Angeles (LAX) were $99 and $139, respectively, but they expired April 11.
I now do all my own airline ticket purchases with the help of my computer and AOL travel, so I started to research rates for the new SOP Delta service and was a bit horrified as I did. The cost from SOP to Boston (BOS) is $734, which is cheaper than I paid back in 1999, but still a little rich for my blood. I can fly from Raleigh (RDU) to BOS for about a third of the Delta price, using Airtran.
Similar premiums seem to follow for other domestic destinations. From SOP to LAX, there is a $396 premium versus RDU; a $555 premium to ORD; a $555 premium to Denver; $604 to San Francisco; $456 to Dallas-Fort Worth and $515 to New York's LaGuardia. These fares are generally more than three times those originating from Raleigh.
These fares were quoted for a senior (60 years plus) for the dates July 20, 2006, returning July 27, 2006.
I tried to get SOP Delta fares to several international destinations but was unable to do so. Perhaps this will come later. And I have to believe that the further one flies from SOP, the more in line Delta's prices will be with themselves and their competition from different airports.
I concluded that I would probably continue to use RDU as my airport because I do not need to get in and out of SOP just for the sake of convenience.
I am not in Delta's market segment for the SOP service. When I read their press release about the new service, it was easy to determine who is their target market: golfers coming into the area. Delta makes a point of focusing in on this sector because golfers who come here have a larger-than-average checkbook for such things as travel, lodging and golf packages.
For certain there will be local Sandhills fliers who will gladly pay the premium just for the expediency of the Delta SOP service.
I sincerely hope the strategy works. After all, US Airways targeted us residents as their primary market, instead of visiting golfers, and we all know what happened. Good luck, Delta!
Andy Thomas lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at email@example.com
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