Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Delta & Cherry Capitol Airport - What's Next?

In case you missed today's TC Ticker (I suspect this will change the details of my January flight itinerary...again):

Delta in TC for Chamber Meeting; Cassens Retiring

Delta in TC for Chamber Meeting; Cassens Retiring
It’s a far cry from “business as usual” at Cherry Capital Airport this week.
Yesterday, airport officials announced that Airport Director Steve Cassens will retire in February after 34 years of service.

Today, Delta Airlines officials are descending on Traverse City for a private meeting at the TC Area Chamber of Commerce with representatives from the TC Convention and Visitors Bureau, airport officials and key local business stakeholders. The total attendees? Sources say no more than 12.

Delta representative Trebor Banstetter declined to comment on the specific reason for the impending meeting except to say, “We don’t want to say much about it publicly beforehand. I would say that we’re always happy to meet with any of the communities we serve if they have concerns or feedback or anything they want to talk to us about.”

Indeed, the Traverse City community has voiced both. This past August, the TC Chamber solicited comments and stories from the public regarding airfares and scheduled flights to and from Traverse City, and how those fares and flights – the former generally considered exorbitant; the latter scant – affected the public’s businesses and travel plans.

The Chamber received nearly 300 responses within one week, many of which stated that driving to DetroitGrand Rapids or other airports often proved more affordable and convenient than flying out of Cherry Capital.

The Chamber compiled the testimonials into a 59-page document and sent it to representatives in Washington D.C. One recipient, Senator Carl Levin, contacted Delta, American and United Airlines.

Donald Ponniah, president and general manager of Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, will attend the private meeting. Since taking over at the resort in July, he’s been working to induce change with the airlines who fly into TC, going so far as to hire consultant Tom Rockne, who boasts extensive connections within the airline industry thanks to a 35 year career in the retail travel market.

“It’s costing me money,” Ponniah says of Rockne's employment, “But he has significant airline relationships. I knew if I hired someone like that I could get to the leadership directly.”

Ponniah says he has lost bookings from seven groups – each numbering between 30 and 300 people – in the last three months alone because the groups declined to fly into TC. “The No. 1 concern people have is that its too expensive to travel here,” he says. “No. 2, there’s not enough flights.”

“I lose a lot of business, and it’s a frustration,” he says. “We are one of the largest employers here. If we don’t get enough business … we have to start laying off people. That’s not what we want.”

What does Ponniah want? What everyone else in TC wants, he says: “I just want the airlines to be fair. I know the airline business – they are in the business of making money, just like me. But let’s be fair here. I’m not saying charge me nothing, but let's look at the price point and the load factor, guys. Let's be fair."

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