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Aviation Blog - Jay Ratliff

More Low Cost Service at CVG!


Well done.

To those who travel on a regular basis from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, I must say well done.

For years CVG was known as the place where low cost carriers went to die, a place where they never (ever) succeeded. For decades CVG was known as the black hole of air fares, where the likes of Delta and others charged the highest average fare of any other airport in the country and travelers were powerless to do anything about it.

In January of last year Frontier made a rather surprising announcement. The airline would be leaving the Dayton market and would move their one flight a day (to Denver) to the Cincinnati Airport. The announcement was met with more than a few raised eyebrows at the prospect of another low cost carrier giving CVG a chance.

I recall when Air Tran began service at CVG in February of 1995, because I was the person tapped for opening up Air Tran in Dayton six months later. The Northwest Airlines regional airline spinoff (from MESABA airlines) would be initiating service from both locations. At first the marketing plan was to service both locations, then a year later it was decided that the region that better supported the nonstop service to Orlando (one flight a day) would continue and the other market would be discontinued.

Nearly two years after Air Tran’s launch at CVG the airline executives cited the obvious lack of support from the community as their reason to leave. Having a Boeing 737, with a seating capacity of 147 seats and seeing 30 or 40 per departure made that decision an easy one. A 30% load factor made it impossible to continue the service and with that the airport began a stretch of decades without any significant low cost service coming to CVG. The attempts by airlines such as Vanguard and Air Tran sent a clear message to the rest of the airline community that CVG was an airport that was loyal to Delta and the other carriers.

When Air Tran entered the market, to compete directly with Delta, the fares to Orlando from CVG plummeted. Delta quickly matched Air Tran’s $49 fares and when travelers decided to fly to Orlando they had a choice of Air Tran or Delta. Unfortunately, time and time again, travelers would choose Delta 10-1 over Air Tran, in order to snag their all-important frequent flier miles. As a community we basically told Air Tran, “Thanks for coming to CVG, we love the lower fares but we’ve decided to fly your competitor instead of you.”

Some reward for initiating service, wouldn’t you agree?

These same travelers…the ones who refused to support the low cost carriers when they came to Cincinnati, were among the chorus screaming about the airport having the highest average fares of any place in the country. The complaining drove me crazy, because if we (as a community) better supported the low cost carriers others would follow. Instead, CVG’s reputation preceded any delegation which was dispatched on a regular basis from the airport administration team to airlines around the country, as they pleaded with airlines to give CVG one more chance. Nearly each time those pleas fell on deaf ears.

I recall the announcement of Frontier leaving Dayton and taking their nonstop service to Denver, in favor of the Cincinnati Airport. I was more than a bit surprised and admit to being anxious when their service began one year ago this month. I attended the inaugural launch last year hoping that this time we would see a different outcome. Perhaps this time, after nearly two decades, we would see a low cost carrier supported in a way that would help us to attract additional service from those who were here and would help us to attract other low cost carriers. I knew if we could, the average fares would eventually fall and we could put the nightmare of past behind us.

Not six months after the service began to Denver, Frontier executives announced they would expand their CVG service to include Trenton, NJ with several flights a week. This announcement was noteworthy because in the seven years Frontier serviced Dayton Airport, the service never expanded beyond one flight to one destination. Now CVG would be seeing two destinations.

As the months followed we learned of Frontier adding another departure to Denver, along with Allegiant Air’s announcement of their Florida service and then their subsequent announcements of expanded service and additional departure cities. This week Frontier announced they would be initiating service to Washington’s Dulles airport from CVG, competing directly with the likes of Delta, US Airways, and United. The fares to this market will continue to fall as well.

All of this within an 18 month span of time.

Of course, the chorus of those who live to complain are now saying that the arrival of Frontier and Allegiant has had no impact on the average fares at CVG. To this I only reference the calendar and remind those who contact me on the topic that it will take time for us to see the impact that the low cost carriers are having on the average fares at CVG. You will see an impact on the fares (as reported quarterly by the Department of Transportation), but it will take some time.

I must admit to being rather surprised in a good way that so much has happened in a relatively short span of time. We are seeing low cost carriers support the CVG market and in turn the travelers at CVG seem to be repaying the favor.

To that I once again say, to the travelers from CVG, well done.

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