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VOL. 127 | NO. 151 | Friday, August 03, 2012

Airfare Campaigns Continue Through Turbulence

By Bill Dries

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()

More than 12,000 citizens have sent email appeals to the CEOs of numerous airlines to consider increasing air service at Memphis International Airport, according to “Come Fly Memphis,” the Facebook group that has become the daily gauge of the civic effort.

Air Canada and Jazz Air recently announced it will end its once-daily scheduled nonstop flight between Memphis and Toronto.   

(Photo: The Canadian Press Images via AP Images/Larry MacDougal)

The effort headed by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and backed by prominent business leaders has settled some initial differences from the launch of the united front July 20 outside City Hall.

But the campaign is still weathering turbulence from the national and international realities of the changing airline industry model.

The CEO of Jazz Air LP isn’t one of the CEOs targeted in the email campaign. But Jazz is one of the prospects mentioned by InterVISTAS Consulting LLC executive vice president Barney Parrella as an airline that might expand air service at Memphis International.

InterVISTAS is the consultant to the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority on a $1 million incentive pool approved by the board at its May meeting.

This week, however, Air Canada, the parent company of Jazz Air, announced it will end its one daily scheduled nonstop flight between Memphis and Toronto effective in mid-September.

And the end of the service is not seasonal.

“The route didn’t perform economically to our expectation. As a result we’ve decided that we are not going to continue it,” said Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick.

“We know that airports love it when we fly there and it’s always disappointing for the airports and the communities to lose service. But at the end of the day we are a business and we have to make business decisions. That’s really what this was.”

The service came to Memphis International in May 2010 under the Air Canada banner.

And originally it featured smaller jets that were above the 50-seat limit that many carriers are now moving away from. They say high fuel prices make the 50-seaters too expensive to fly. The Memphis-Toronto flight had recently gone to the 50-seat jets.

Meanwhile, there are now two Facebook groups on the issue of airline service at Memphis International after the “My Memphis Airport” group by the Greater Memphis Chamber and Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority merged with “Come Fly Memphis.” The other, “Delta Does Memphis,” is the oldest of the three.

DDM was created by Smart City Consulting and has endorsed the “Come Fly Memphis” effort while maintaining a group that often features the more pointed side of the discussion about air service and airfares in Memphis. By contrast, “Come Fly Memphis” usually avoids direct mentions of Delta.

Since June, Airport Authority president Larry Cox had been responding to questions about airport operations on “My Memphis Airport.” He also posted that he thought the email effort to airline CEOs was a mistake.

Maury S. Lane of the “Come Fly Memphis” effort responded shortly after the City Hall press conference by inviting Cox to join that Facebook group.

“Truthfully, I wish I didn’t have to ‘invite’ you, but it seems that you view ‘Delta Does Memphis’ and ‘Come Fly Memphis’ as attempts to undermine what you and/or the Airport Authority are doing to stem the economic damage rendered by Delta’s high airfares and cutback in daily flights here,” Lane wrote.

Lane challenged Cox specifically on whether Southwest and Virgin America executives were upset about the emails – 5,000 by Lane’s count in the first 24 hours the Facebook group was up. Lane said his contacts with both companies indicated they were not upset.

Virgin America supplied the email address used on the site.

And he added that Cox’s comments were creating a “false fear” that Southwest might not come to Memphis because of the email campaign.

Cox countered as well, writing: “Their feedback to me was emphatic that the campaign was having a negative impact and the emails should stop immediately.”

Lane’s posting of his response on “My Memphis Airport” was deleted.

The next day, “My Memphis Airport” was ended as organizers of the effort announced they were supporting the “Come Fly Memphis” effort.

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