Make Sure Airline Service Test Is Fair
As Delta Air Lines representatives meet with Moore County Airport officials later this month, one irony will hang heavily in the air.
It goes like this: Everybody in Moore County welcomes and greatly appreciates Delta's decision to conduct this year's test of local receptivity to scheduled passenger service. Yet the company has dipped its toe into the water in such tentative fashion that it is in danger of getting a false reading and making a wrong decision.
It all has to do with scheduling.
We all rejoiced when Delta responded to the full-court promotional press launched by Airport Manager Ron Maness and other local boosters by agreeing to give Moore County a try. The local airport had been without regular service since US Airways pulled out in April 2002 in the wake of a post-911 drop-off in travel.
Inconvenient Return Times
Though the Moore County venture that Delta took on earlier this year was a drop in its corporate bucket, the airline had just gone through the throes of a bankruptcy proceeding and was understandably reluctant to go out on much of a limb. So it made a minimal commitment: It would begin serving the Moore County Airport on an experimental, limited basis.
Even that scaled-down approach was greeted here with hurrahs. Still, the word "limited" deserves emphasis. Delta agreed only to one in-and-out flight a day, and only between June 22 and Nov. 13 of this year (forget Thanksgiving and Christmas), with the possibility of renewing again for 2007. And did we mention you can't fly on Tuesdays?
Furthermore: Though the outgoing departure time of 11:45 a.m. is convenient, sort of, the incoming arrival time of 11:13 is not. Hardly anyone who gets on a plane here is making a one-way flight; what goes out must come back in. And, with few exceptions, anyone catching that 10 a.m. flight out of Atlanta either has to spend the night there or get up at 0-dark-thirty to make a connecting flight from elsewhere.
That situation has prompted much frustration. Many travelers here are happy to undergo a certain amount of expense and inconvenience to show their support for the new service, but that willingness goes only so far. Then there is the added problem that Delta has never quite managed to get correct data about the SOP flight into its computers, with the result that callers or Web visitors often encounter wildly incorrect information about the cost of tickets.
Second Flight Is Crucial
For these and other reasons, the average load factor (percentage of seats filled) has hovered around 62 percent so far, sagging into the 50s in recent weeks. Airlines obviously prefer seeing that factor stabilizing in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Flying half-full planes can't be very profitable in anybody's book.
Moore Countians are not looking a gift horse in the mouth. We're all thankful that Delta has put us to the test. All we ask is that it be a fair test.
A modest proposal: Give us another whirl next year. But this time, add a second flight in late afternoon. (If that means putting the pilots up here overnight, our guess is that that could be arranged.) Make sure the service to and from SOP is well advertised and well integrated into company computers. Maybe even add a seventh day. We're sure you'll see those load factors go sky high.
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