Once in a while you read a letter in the newspaper that makes you wonder. A letter in the Wichita Eagle by Susan Priest of Wichita makes me wonder a few things.
This letter reports on an overheard conversation among airline pilots. One source of their amusement is that there are no direct flights between Wichita and Oklahoma City.
I’m not positive about this, but I’m sure that the demand for air travel between Wichita and Oklahoma City is very low. Google maps tells me that the driving time from one city’s downtown to the other is two hours and 30 minutes. The drive to a city’s airport, arriving way early to make sure you get through security, combined with the flight time and the drive from the other city’s airport to wherever your destination is — this would take much more time than that. And what do you do for ground transportation? Renting a car takes time, too.
But what really makes me wonder is the pilot’s claim, and Ms. Priest’s evident agreement, that you can’t get good airfares from Wichita. Our government leaders would be distressed to hear that, as currently we spend $6.5 million per year in subsidy to a low-cost airline in order to artificially suppress all airfares. Is this subsidy not working?
I have argued that the subsidy is not in the best interests of Wichita for several reasons. The post Remarks to Wichita City Council Regarding the AirTran Subsidy on July 11, 2006 summarizes the arguments and gives links to other supporting articles. Now, if people complain that Wichita airfares are not low, and if they’re still driving to Oklahoma City or Kansas City to catch flights — as the pilots and Ms. Priest claim — we have a serious problem.
I’m not for sure if we have a problem. Currently, Mid-Continent has been experience record passenger levels, in fact, one of the largest passenger level increases in the nation.
But why would anybody fly to OKC from Wichita? OKC is not a hub nor a business destination that warrants air flights from here to OKC or even KC.
But that saying. High airfares in Wichita has been the catch-22. If airfares are high, then people drive to OKC or KC for flights, but airlines will have to keep them high here in ICT because the passenger flights are not full and they need to be somewhat profitable. But if everybody stops driving to KC and OKC to catch flights (which is basically what is happening now) then plane flights in ICT become more full and airlines charge less per ticket because their flights are profitable.
About the subsidy for Airtran. That is another thing. I’m not for subsidies, but I have a good friend that is a pilot for Airtran. Currently the Boeing 717’s that Airtran uses to fly into Wichita are not really profitable, even at 100% passenger levels, because of the price of jet fuel. Wichita is about the furthest route that a 717 makes from Atlanta, and he told me that it is the short hops that makes the money for 717’s. The longer the distance, the less profitable they become. Case in point, even the flights to Kansas City are not profitable.