Air­port’s new flights in­clude the trop­ics

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Encore - BY CASSIE COPE [email protected]­lot­teob­server.com ELY POR­TILLO espor­[email protected]­lot­teob­server.com Cassie Cope: 704-358-5926, cassiel­cope

New des­ti­na­tions from Char­lotte’s air­port are giv­ing more op­tions to trav­el­ers, as new air­lines at­tempt to com­pete with dom­i­nant car­rier Amer­i­can Air­lines on some routes. Since mid-De­cem­ber, Amer­i­can, which op­er­ates about 90 per­cent of flights at Char­lotte Dou­glas In­ter­na­tional Air­port, has added in­ter­na­tional flights to the Ba­hamas, Bar­ba­dos and Mex­ico. Amer­i­can also added do­mes­tic flights to Cham­paign-Ur­bana, Ill.; Ithaca, N.Y., and New Haven, Conn. Mean­while, Mex­i­can bud­get air­line Vo­laris de­buted re­cently at the air­port of­fer­ing a flight to Guadala­jara, while a re­gional air­line, Con­tour Air­lines added a flight on Satur­days to Tampa, Fla. The changes come as Char­lotte Dou­glas is in­vest­ing $2.5 bil­lion in air­port ren­o­va­tions de­signed to im­prove pas­sen­ger ex­pe­ri­ences and add a new run­way. “En­hanc­ing the air­port, im­prov­ing the ter­mi­nal in­fra­struc­ture, adding flights — these are all good things,” said air­lines an­a­lyst Henry Harteveldt, based in San Fran­cisco. Since Amer­i­can merged with U.S. Air­ways in 2013, the air­line has added about two dozen new routes from Char­lotte, ac­cord­ing to Amer­i­can. In an Oc­to­ber earn­ings call, Pres­i­dent Robert Isom said that in 2020, Amer­i­can will add seven gates at Char­lotte, en- abling an­other 75 daily de­par­tures. Bob Mann, an air­lines an­a­lyst based in Port Wash­ing­ton, N.Y., said Char­lotte is a low-cost hub per pas­sen­ger for Amer­i­can Air­lines be­cause the air­port has been man­aged well, in­clud­ing com­pet­i­tively bid­ding con­struc­tion projects. In 2017 a record 46 mil­lion pas­sen­gers trav­eled through Char­lotte, in­clud­ing con­nect­ing pas­sen­gers. That’s up about 13 mil­lion from a decade ear­lier. The Char­lotte air­port said it plans to re­lease 2018 pas­sen­ger data in March. Harteveldt said Char­lotte is strate­gi­cally im­por­tant to Amer­i­can. But he cau­tioned, if flights are not prof­itable, then Amer­i­can could stop serv­ing the route, re­duce the ser­vice or fly with smaller air­craft. At least two of the 23 flights Amer­i­can added to Char­lotte in the past five years are no longer of­fered, in­clud­ing a flight to San Jose, Calif., and Ha­vana, Cuba, ac­cord­ing to Amer­i­can. Amer­i­can eval­u­ates routes by mar­ket de­mand and whether the route is prof­itable, air­line spokeswoma­n Crys­tal Byrd said in a state­ment.

IN­TER­NA­TIONAL SER­VICE

In ad­di­tion to the new flights to Mex­ico, the Ba­hamas and Bar­ba­dos, Amer­i­can has an­nounced plans to add flights this year to Mu­nich start­ing in March and Santo Domingo, Do­mini­can Repub­lic, start­ing next sum­mer. “We’d like to grow Char­lotte’s in­ter­na­tional net­work,” Byrd said. “And so, this is the first big step to­wards that.” A to­tal of 3.3 mil­lion of the air­port’s 2017 pas­sen­gers, or about 7 per­cent, were trav­el­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally, ac­cord­ing to air­port sta­tis­tics. The just-launched Amer­i­can flights in­clude pop­u­lar va­ca­tion des­ti­na­tions. Adding those non­stop flights saves Amer­i­can trav­el­ers time by help­ing them avoid fly­ing to Mi­ami or con­nect­ing in an­other hub to reach their des­ti­na­tions, said an­a­lyst Harteveldt. Amer­i­can’s non­stop daily flight to Guadala­jara launched in Jan­u­ary, and was an­nounced last year, shortly af­ter Vo­laris dis­closed plans for ser­vice be­tween Char­lotte and Guadala­jara twice a week. Vo­laris brings com­peti- tion, which Hartevelt said will force other air­lines to con­sider to what de­gree they want to match prices.

‘VOTE OF CON­FI­DENCE’

For do­mes­tic flights, Char­lotte’s prices are higher than the na­tional av­er­age. The av­er­age do­mes­tic flight from Char­lotte dur­ing the sec­ond quar­ter of last year cost $427, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Bureau of Trans­porta­tion Sta­tis­tics. That’s $ 78 more than the na­tional av­er­age of $349 dur­ing the same pe­riod. That could be be­cause more busi­ness trav­el­ers fly from Char­lotte in­stead of from other air­ports, Harteveldt said. Other fac­tors could also in­flu­ence those fig­ures. For ex­am­ple, flights from Char­lotte could also in­volve longer dis­tances on av­er­age, he said. The new do­mes­tic flights are largely tar­geted to­ward busi­ness trav­el­ers, Harteveldt said. Des­ti­na­tions like Ithaca, where Cor­nell Univer­sity is lo­cated, and New Haven, home to Yale Univer­sity, will be use­ful for peo­ple do­ing busi­ness with those in­sti­tu­tions, he said. Other cities that Amer­i­can is adding this year in­clude Erie, Pa., and Tra­verse City, Mich. The ad­di­tion of the do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional flights shows a pri­or­ity in Char­lotte for Amer­i­can Air­lines, Harteveldt said. Any time Amer­i­can adds a flight to Char­lotte in­stead of an­other hub, he said, “it’s a big vote of con­fi­dence in Char­lotte.”

The new Con­course A North, with nine gates, opened in July at Char­lotte Dou­glas In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

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