Whether CAE succeeds depends on all of us

Columbia Metropolitan Airport Executive Director Dan Mann introduces Bill Maloney of Vision Airlines Wednesday at CAE.

You may have heard that discount carrier Vision Airlines will soon offer flights out of Columbia to its home in the Destin, Florida, area. Yesterday, Bill Maloney, Vision’s director of business development, introduced himself to local media.

He didn’t offer a lot of new details beyond what had been reported previously, so I pass on this from Columbia Regional Business Report, which provides the basics:

A charter airline that got its start in 1994 offering aerial tours of the Grand Canyon, Vision is expanding the scheduled commercial service it started just two years ago. The company announced today that it will launch service in 20 Southeastern cities this spring. In addition to Columbia, the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport is on the list.

Vision, headquartered outside Atlanta, will fly to the Northwest Florida Regional Airport, providing a gateway to the coastal towns in the Florida panhandle.

The company operates a mixed fleet of Boeing 767, Boeing 737 and Dornier 328 aircraft. At Columbia, Vision will fly a 148-seat Boeing 737-400 aircraft….

Vision is offering introductory fares of $49 one-way if booked Jan. 18-23. After that, rates start at $89 one-way.

The other cities where Vision is launching service include Atlanta; Little Rock, Ark.; Hunstville, Ala.; Punta Gorda, Fla.; Baton Rouge, La.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Macon, Ga.; Savannah, Ga.; Birmingham, Ala.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Louisville, Ky.; Orlando, Fla.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Asheville, N.C. and Shreveport, La.

Will Vision make it where others have not? Will it grow here, and add destinations to its modest initial offering? Will it help broaden the menu of destinations from CAE and lower fares?

Well, that depends on us. Of everything said at the press conference Wednesday, the most pertinent to me was this, from CMA Executive Director Dan Mann:

The key is going to be community support, and getting on the aircraft.

It’s all up to us. Either Columbia — and by “Columbia” I mean the economic community that sprawls across Richland and Lexington counties and beyond — gets in the habit of flying out of its own airport when feasible (and cost-effective), or it doesn’t. We all want lower fares (the lack of which is the biggest reason many folks drive to other cities to catch flights), but we’ll never get them unless we fill up the flights we have here, so the airlines can make money flying bigger planes, with more seats, out of CAE.

As consultant Michael Boyd made clear last year, airlines aren’t going to do that out of sympathy for our plight. We, the community, have to change the math for them. And for the airlines to schedule more flights out of here, with bigger planes – thereby lowering fares – we have to provide them with more passengers wanting to fly from HERE to those destinations.

Too many of us don’t fly out of Columbia because of the fares. And we can’t lower the fares without more of us flying out of here. It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing. Or a tomato thing.

I liked what airport commission vice chair Anne Sinclair said in my hearing recently:

People used to not care where their tomato comes from. Now they do. That didn’t happen by magic… I honestly think people take this airport for granted.

Columbia needs an aviation version of the locavore movement. Increasingly, consumers care that their tomato is homegrown. That’s what Emile DeFelice played on so effectively when he ran for state commissioner of agriculture on the slogan, “Put Your State on Your Plate.” He didn’t get elected, but his campaign spurred the agriculture department to step up its own program to promote local products, “Certified South Carolina.” Not quite as catchy or engaging to the imagination, but now you see those stickers in every supermarket, and they are increasingly part of the consciousness of the shopping public.

For CAE, the challenge is to get its friends and neighbors to Think Columbia First. Without a united community that sees Columbia Metropolitan as OUR airport, the airport can’t grow. And without a growing, dynamic airport, our community can’t grow.

More people in the Midlands need to think of Columbia Metropolitan Airport as their airport, the one in which they have a stake, the one they want to see succeed (and want to be a part of bringing about that success). Of course, that also involves having a more positive attitude toward their own community. There are people who turn up their noses at things because they are local, the function of a collective inferiority complex. That needs to change (and fortunately, I think that on a number of fronts it IS changing). As I’ve said before — stand in the place where you live.

Dan Mann — the guy who won my admiration when he introduced himself to Columbia Rotary by showing a Louis C.K. video making fun of people who gripe about air travel — understands this. The challenge for him, and for all who want to grow this community, is to make sure the rest of us get it.

22 thoughts on “Whether CAE succeeds depends on all of us

  1. bud

    One small thing CAE could do is make parking rentals cheaper. The high parking fees offset the driving cost to Charlotte. Otherwise it might be just as cheap to fly from CAE even if ticket prices are a bit lower at Charlotte.

  2. Doug Ross

    I flew in and out of CAE over 70 times last year. I would guess that the planes were on average 95% full. It’s not a question of passengers, it’s about available routes. And do we know that airlines like Jet Blue and Southwest are not interested in the Columbia market? The presence of either one would have an immediate impact on prices.

    As for ther airport itself, the parking is way too expensive and the options for food are abysmal.

  3. Brad

    So you know — ADCO is doing some work, together with Carolina PR, for Columbia Metropolitan Airport. The work has to do with some of the issues touched on in this post. You’ll be seeing more about it.

    As usual, you’re reading stuff here because it’s what I believe, not because someone paid me to believe it. I was pretty pumped when we got the chance to work with the airport on helping it to grow. I see such growth as essential to the betterment of our community. One of the great things about working at ADCO is that I get to continue the mission — to keep working on some of the same issues that I promoted as editorial page editor at The State, taking positions that I believe advance Columbia, and South Carolina. This is such an issue.

  4. Lynn

    I couldn’t agree with Bud more, I drive to Charlotte or Greenville to fly not only because of price differential but mostly because of the total lack of customer service at CAE and the outrageous parking fees.
    I’ve been ticketed too many times for taking a moment to assist an elderly person enter the airport with their luggage. How does a person assist a person with extra luggage while sitting in the car?

    I have watched as the parking Gestapo waited like vultures to swoop and ticket. I complained about this discourteous behavior and it fell on deaf ears. CAE is the perfect example of winning the battle and losing the war.

    Remember in a free market we vote with our dollars.

  5. Brad

    Thanks to The Shop Tart just now, for letting me know via Twitter that there was a typo in my headline. Shop Tart’s like Superman, flying over our Metropolis, swooping in wherever her help is needed. (And I know her secret identity, which means I know more than Jimmy Olsen does about the Man of Steel, only I don’t have a signal watch for calling her. Yet she is always there… Which makes me wonder: Does Jimmy Olsen have or need a signal watch in the era of PDAs and Twitter? Discuss.)

    And speaking of The Shop Tart — ask HER about the importance of local. That’s what her site is all about.

  6. Brad

    Hey, Doug — some else raised that question about the full flights. I checked with Dan, and he said the way I put it was correct, but that it’s more complicated.

    For instance… he said that we have fares here that match the lower ones in Charlotte. Trouble is, they have a lot MORE seats at those rates, so it’s easier to find one there. The answer to that is to persuade the airlines that we can fill BIGGER planes than the ones we often fill now. That would mean a lot more seats with discounted fares.

    It’s not simple. But then, as a guy who flies as much as you do, you already know that air travel pricing is a complex business.

    But overall, the more folks try to book their flights out of here, the more the economics work in our favor. And the more of us who drive to Charlotte to catch a US Airways flight, the more convinced US Airways is that it doesn’t need to have more or bigger planes flying out of here — because they’re getting those passengers now.

  7. Brad

    And as I said, it’s chicken and egg. We drive elsewhere because get lower rates, but if we booked more flights out of here we could have lower rates here.

    And yeah, the parking cost is a factor. I hear that all the time. The consultant, Boyd, said it wasn’t a factor at that session last year. I stood up to say that I hear it everywhere. And if that’s what people are saying, if that shapes their experience and their decision-making, then yeah, it’s a factor.

    A large part of his message was that the key is the business traveler — particularly international travelers — and that the price to park a car wasn’t that big a deal to THEM. To the business traveler, the main thing is that you can get to where you need to be, when you need to be there. That means you need more destinations, and with as few changes of plane as possible. But again, we have to show we can fill those planes, too, to get more destinations and flights.

  8. Doug Ross

    The good points about CAE:

    1) You can’t get through security any faster than in Columbia. No body scanners, they open two lanes when necessary.

    2) Free wireless access. A BIG plus for me when waiting for a flight.

    3) Quick baggage claim. Usually the wait is less than 5 minutes on Thursday night. Time = money for the business traveler.

    4) Rental cars right outside the door. I hate places (Denver, Las Vegas, San Fran, etc.) where you get your bag, go outside, wait for a bus, ride the bus for 7-10 minutes, get your car, and then drive back PAST the airport you just left.

    I don’t pay my travel expenses or else I would care more about the cost. I go for convenience in terms of getting to the airport and getting home. On Sunday’s I can leave my house an hour and ten minutes before the flight is scheduled to leave and be at the gate with a few minutes to spare before boarding starts. That’s worth a lot to me.

    But seriously.. tell you aiport guy that CAE needs to open the food concessions up to the free market. Let some chains in… like Salsaritas, Nathans Hot Dogs, or if you want to go local, how about a Rush’s? I’d kill for a two piece all white basket some days when my flights are delayed.

  9. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    One of the criteria for military base closing is the availability of commercial flights. We. cannot. lose. Fort Jackson.

    I drive a Prius, and it still would cost me a fair amount @ $3/gal. to drive to Charlotte or Greenville, roundtrip. Easily enough for cab fare or to comp a friend for a lift to the airport.

  10. Herb Brasher

    I agree with Doug on all of his points about CAE, except the parking costs do matter to me. Leave a car for a week or two at the Columbia airport, vs leaving it at the Charlotte airport, and the cost difference is significant.

    And working for a non-profit, well business costs matter; every penny used is taken out somebody’s hard-earned and sacrificial donation. I don’t take that lightly.

  11. Joanne

    I agree with Doug on his points and with Herb. The parking is high.

    My sister has actually started coming into CAE rather than CLT because she can use my mom’s car, and I can go get her.

    We prefer CAE because it never fails I’m flying a red eye generally both ways when I go out West, too early or too late. At least with CAE I’m not that far from home.

    I hope they can get things straight and that we can support what I consider to be a nice airport.

  12. Debbie McDaniel

    I always fly out of CAE and find it much easier than Charlotte.
    Consider me a loyal customer.

  13. Mark Stewart

    As much as I hate to say it, the drive to the airport is such a drag, particularly down Airport Blvd. I really believe that having a connector from I-26 would make the experience of using the airport a lot more attractive to people from across the region.

    As is, it’s just so small-time that it does feel like some place one would rather not be – which is the exact opposite of what it is like once one reaches the terminal area.

    Doug’s right, the airports that stress local retailers and food options are some of the more pleasant terminals to pass through.

  14. Sammy Clemens

    I’m headed to Cola this weekend via a flight to Florence. $277 vs $540 times 2 as I’m taking my son. $500+ difference. While I’m flying into vs out of the area the outcome is the same. That’s a great deal of money to expect people to invest into their community especially with little or no immediate benefit. I don’t see this as a community issue as it is a simple budgeting issue.

    What are the local and state leaders doing to address this?

  15. SusanG

    Yes, the parking costs matter to me, too. And I also loved when one could park curbside for 5 minutes and help get someone’s luggage in or out. The current setup is not convenient (or friendly). And I do love all the things Doug mentions — be sure they keep those.

    Aside to @Kathryn
    I would get a friend to take me –your friends are probably just nicer than mine (and earlier risers?), but when I say I have to be at the airport well before 7 am, they look at me like I’ve lost my mind (comp or no comp)! (Ok, so maybe I need better friends – you available to take me to the airport next time ;)?)

  16. Herb B

    I would add that my experience in the last couple of years is a bit the opposite of Sammy’s. CAE has been often cheaper than the Charlotte connection–though I suspect this probably holds true more for international flights than domestic ones.

  17. bud

    Doug’s food comment is a good one but without many flyers I doubt many food vendors could make money. It’s free enterprise at work. Also chicken and egg.

  18. Doug Ross

    And how about giving a forum for some of our local musicians to play in the open area outside the security gates? That area is like a mausoleum.

    Waiting for people to arrive at CAE means sitting there staring at the plants, “shopping” at the golf store, or buying a $4.00 bottle of water at the gift shop. Dull.

  19. Anne

    Love CAE, love how easy it is. And it’s so pretty and clean. Kathryn, I didn’t know that about military bases closing. It seems like there would have to be a LOT more flights out for that to happen, maybe.

    Frankly, I’ve always been able to get flights out. Sometimes, they are a little more, but the parking expense in Charlotte plus gas would even out the cost.

  20. Doug Ross

    A current example of the great discrepancy between fares from CAE compared to CLT.

    I have to make weekly trips for the next three months to Columbus, OH. The flights from Columbia average $250 more roundtrip. Since I have a limit on expenses, I will be flying out of Charlotte.

Comments are closed.