I didn’t mean to give the impression that Dan Mann, Columbia airport honcho, was cavalier about the problems facing air travelers in the Midlands.
He gave a very balanced, understanding presentation of the challenges, and he had some interesting suggestions: For instance, if you’re driving to Charlotte to catch a plane because of the cheaper fare, don’t fly U.S. Airways. Why? Because when he tells U.S. Airways they’re losing Columbia business, the airline says no we’re not, we’re stilling getting those fares. If the airline lost business because of people driving to Charlotte, it might lower fares here.
Something to think about, anyway.
Mr. Mann said 400,000 passengers drive elsewhere to catch planes each year, which is a problem for our airport here, which loses $6 million as a result. Lost revenue means less to invest in the airport, which means a less desirable airport that you want to fly from even LESS.
Me, I think CAE is a wonderful asset to the community, but my family can’t afford to fly from there. Air travel is expensive enough, and when I can save several hundred dollars by driving an hour and a half, guess what I’m gonna do? The communitarian in me, that wants to boost the community, might feel bad about it, but not so bad as to pay the higher fare.
And the thing is, folks, it’s not just Charlotte with its US Airways hub. It’s not just the “bigger-is-better” phenomenon. I’ve learned over the years that you can get better fares (and less hassle) driving to Greenville. And here’s the best secret of all: Augusta. Yep, that little ol’ Augusta airport is generally a better deal than Columbia, and closer than Charlotte.
Mr. Mann said he wants to hear about it when you find a better rate elsewhere. He might not be able to do anything about it — at least, not before your flight — but maybe he can talk down the airlines for the next passenger, and over time improve the situation for us all.
His phone number is (803) 822-7878, but he said the better way to reach him is probably e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, let’s see if we at bradwarthen.com can contribute to solving this problem by collecting a little data. Where do YOU go to fly, and why? I’ll be glad to pass it on to Mr. Mann.
My brother is flying from Philadelphia to Florence, SC in a couple of weeks, instead of CAE, and saving hundreds of dollars. My parents in Aiken fly out of Augusta lately, because CAE is so much more pricey. Sometimes Dad will even take the shuttle bus to Atlanta!
We use the Chicago and Dulles- CAE flights a lot for my husband and his professor colleagues. I hope those remain reasonable.
I’ve flown 40 segments on Delta and 10 segments on US Air already this year. All the flights originated in Columbia and connected through Charlotte or Atlanta. Destinations: Salt Lake, Kansas City, Toronto, Dallas.
When I was flying to San Francisco every week two years ago, I would make the drive to Charlotte just because I didn’t want to get up at 4:00 a.m. to leave from Columbia.
Since it’s business travel, I go for what is convenient for me… although last week I did stay overnight in Dallas because the fare was $500 cheaper to go the next morning versus go and come back in the same day.
The Columbia airport is pretty good. The free wi-fi performs well. The time it takes to get bags off the planes and to the carousels may be the best I’ve seen. The rental car location is just out the back door. The only real downside about the Columbia airport are the food options. I normally don’t eat there but a recent flight delay left me no choice. Someone needs to put in a food court style area with a Schianos, a Panda King, and a Wendys. (Off the topic, but if you don’t travel, you have no idea how many good restaurant chains we DON’T have in Columbia).
Now, can Mr. Mann get a direct flight from Columbia to Tampa set up real quick? I’ll be making that trip for the next three months.
Augusta may sometimes offer better fares, but it’s a poor place in other respects. With us, if it’s not CAE, we go for CLT or ATL.
I’ve occasionally found the opposite…recently looking for a nonstop fare Charlotte to Pittsburgh, then found a fare from CAE to Pittsburgh 1/3 cheaper, connecting to the SAME nonstop flight from CLT in the first place. Go figure that!
But one more factor in the CLT over CAE desirability: the way cheaper long-term parking fees in Charlotte. Why are they so much pricier in Columbia?
CLT has become oppressively crowded though in recent months. I love the Columbia airport and think it makes just the right statement about our city and region to arriving visitors.
A few years ago when I was on a flight every week, CAE was almost always the most expensive airport in Eastern SC. (Doug, don’t envy you at all, flying so much. Flew all over the US for years, every week.) Even drove to Charleston on a few occasions. Otherwise, drove to CLT or Myrtle Beach. Oddly enough, as a general rule, it is less expensive to fly into Florence than originate a flight from there. Go figure.
Its always either ATL or CLT. Never fly out of CAE. The airport is nice, people are friendly. But the fares are just ridiculous. Until they lower their fares substantially and do an advertising campaign to let people know about it I suspect they will continue to have the same problem that they do now. The problem being that they have always been so much more expensive that people like me don’t even consider looking at them as an option anymore.
I almost always fly out of Charlotte, partly because of airfares but also because it is preferable to me to be on a nonstop flight and then have a drive, rather than to connect through Charlotte, and end up sitting in the airport for hours because of delays or missed connections. Also – you can’t beat the Charlotte airport’s daily parking rates. That alone more than saves for the gas money up and back.
I don’t fly often but when I do it tends to be out of CLT. Driving to Charlotte from Columbia is such a minor inconvenience that I would continue to do it even if the price disparity dropped by 75%, and this is coming from someone who lives less than 5 minutes away from CAE. Honestly, I don’t see any way they can compete for customers flying on their own dime; of course, things are different int the case of business travelers such as Doug.
Frankly, I drive as much as possible (I wish the trains were better)–cheaper and sooo much better for the environment, and I can take my dogs along easily…but I’m just a leisure traveler.
One thing, though, that is in CAE’s favor: I can pick someone at up the airport with ease if they just call me at home when their plane lands. A nice benefit for those of us living close enough….
Since 9-11, I drive if at all possible. Not the fear of flying, the fear of having to spend all day standing in some sort of line then being assigned the sardine assigned to seat K-2 with 400 pound passengers in seats K-1 and K-3. Flying used to be enjoyable, now it’s like a prostate exam.
The real problem we all have is the overcapacity of airport gates in the region. Where else does one find 5 commercial airports within less than a 2 hour drive, all tripping over each over to cut incentive deals with the airlines?
The state would actually benefit from having just two airports. Instead, we continue to reinforce the instate regionalism that keeps the whole state from advancing. This is what happens when everyone wants to have a large airport – everyone just pays more for less service. CLT is naturally going to rise to the top in the region. If SC wants a bigger, more connected airport, everyone here is going to need to find a way to support one main airport. Even if that means driving two hours to reach it.
Dan Mann, the airport head, explained that while within SC, CAE is two hours (or so) drive for everyone, Greenville draws from NC and GA, and Charleston from GA. Augusta draws from eastern GA, as well as the CSRA, so although CAE is the natural hub for SC, the airlines don’t care what state their passengers come from.
I guess it’s the downside of being two hours from the beach and two hours from the mountains…
Hence the oft-suggested, but never adopted, slogan for the Midlands: “Only two hours from where you want to be!”