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VOL. 127 | NO. 143 | Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Consultant’s Advice For Memphis: Fly Delta

By Bill Dries

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The advice seemed to take aim at the most tender part of the raw nerve running through the recent civic discussion about Delta Air Lines Inc.’s cuts in air service at Memphis International Airport and the higher fares that have come with the cuts.

ANDERSON

Fly Delta whenever you can, especially if you are flying business class on your company’s bill and don’t complain publicly or privately about high fares as local leaders work to build more competition for Delta here.

WHARTON

That was the advice Dr. Brian Campbell, an airline industry consultant, gave Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and more than a dozen other mayors from the Mid-South region Friday, July 20.

“The first thing you need to do is support the Delta service you have,” Campbell said after the private session with the mayors. “It will do you no good to complain publicly or privately about Delta Air Lines. It will be self defeating. … I encourage you to continue to support Delta to help them understand this market better … trying to get your corporations to support Delta and every other carrier that is here now or may be here in the future in terms of guaranteed seat purchases. But whatever you do, support Delta.”

Memphis International’s passenger count for the fiscal year that ended June 30 was down 18 percent from the previous fiscal year. New Delta air service cuts next month will decrease the number of average daily flights at the airport even further, from 150 to 125.

When asked why Memphis passengers should support Delta instead of seeking lower fares at the Little Rock or Nashville airports and making the same kind of financial decision he attributes to Delta’s rationale for cutting air service, Campbell said there is a difference.

“Delta knows full well that it is losing traffic to Little Rock, but it has the job of optimizing its own system,” he said. “If they lowered the price to Southwest Airlines’ Little Rock price … I can guarantee you they’d be gone in 30 days. You’d have no Delta.”

Campbell said business class passengers could afford to continue paying the markedly higher fares to fly Delta out of Memphis – a point several CEOs of Memphis-based corporations have disputed.

“The Memphis lawyer who is going to visit the client on Wednesday can pay the Delta fare or can pay the United fare or the American fare,” Campbell said. “When that same person takes their spouse and two kids to see their grandparents, they might drive to Little Rock. … You cannot demand that Delta reduce its fares. They have all the traffic numbers. They know how traffic responds and they are trying to optimize their service network at Memphis.”

Until Friday’s visit by Campbell, civic and airport leaders had been courting competition for Delta without any mention of Delta – good, bad or indifferent.

Then the city backed the rollout of a new Facebook group called “Come Fly Memphis” working together with Smart City Consulting, the group that started the “Delta Does Memphis” Facebook group that has been the tip of the spear in raising the issue and channeling public outrage from Memphis frequent flyers.

Campbell also approved of the Come Fly Memphis feature that allows users to send a form letter to the CEOs of numerous airlines asking them to come to Memphis International.

It’s a strategy airport authority president Larry Cox questioned on the “My Memphis Airport” Facebook group started by the Greater Memphis Chamber and the airport.

Cox, who has been fielding questions and comments from critics on the FB group, said the form letter feature is creating a “big problem” for the airline executives he’s talking with who are complaining about full email inboxes.

“Southwest Airlines very upset, as is Virgin America,” Cox posted.

Wharton met recently with Delta CEO Richard Anderson, the architect of Delta’s philosophy of permanent cuts in capacity at places like Memphis.

“He knows we are concerned about the high fares,” Wharton said. “There’s no debate on that whatsoever. Richard Anderson fully expects us to see if we can get competition in here. I don’t think anybody would debate that the high fares are not an advantage when trying to recruit business and tourism and conventions.”

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