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Challenge American Airlines

I’d like to thank you for Mike Reuther’s story about the Lycoming County Commissioners voicing their concerns about American Airlines’ reduced flight schedules for Williamsport Regional Airport. This “seasonal reduction” by the airline has taken place for the past few years and it makes travel quite difficult and even more expensive for us who need to travel for business on a weekly and monthly basis.

Without the three daily flights into and out of Williamsport, we are forced to drive to one of four other airports: State College, Harrisburg, Wilkes-Barre, or Elmira. The closest is State College at one hour drive time. Harrisburg is the farthest at just over two hours.

During the winter months, this is not simply a matter of convenience; it is also a matter of cost and, ultimately, safety. The added drive time can also mean additional parking fees or an overnight hotel stay. And that drive can also mean icy roads and accidents meaning the driver may never reach the airport.

This reduction in flights also reinforces the idea for many local residents who may only travel once a year or so, that Williamsport is not convenient so they typically opt to drive to Harrisburg.

What many people do not realize is that with the early morning flight out of Williamsport, you can be in London by the early evening or out in San Diego before noon. The cost to fly through Philly vs. driving to Harrisburg or Philly might be $50 to $100 more on the ticket but when you consider having to make the drive, pay for parking, gas and a meal on the way, it’s actually more cost-effective to simply fly out of Williamsport. When you arrive back at our airport, you have a few minutes’ drive back to your front door.

In many ways, this feels like a very subtle effort by American Airlines to choke off business demand for flights in and out of Williamsport. If they can “prove” a lack of use, then they can shut down the route. It may have not been expressed publicly but their actions seem to make this a clear motive.

What would be helpful is if the county commissioners, the airport authority, the city, along other local municipalities and the chamber of commerce create a partnership that focuses on lobbying American to add flights and to encourage other airlines to bring flights to our airport.

Another very important element in all of this: Advertising and Promotion. Aside from the occasional stories about the airport in the media, there has been absolutely no effort to promote the service and facilities of the airport to the residents of north central Pennsylvania. As it is with most regional airports around the country, the airlines and airport management assume that everyone knows what they do and where they are. This could not be further from the truth. The airport authority should have a budget for a constant and steady campaigns about the convenience and improvements of the new facility. The Field of Dreams mentality of : build it and they will come” is never a good way to expect customers to “find you.”

While the commissioners talked about the impact on tourism, the real impact is on business and industry. When companies see the kind of access Williamsport and Lycoming County has via highways, rail and air, it makes us a much more attractive place to locate a business here. There are many of us who are happy to support this airport and we book flights out of Williamsport first before considering driving to the others.

We’ve invested in updating and replacing the old airport facilities (which is now one of the nicest in the region) and it’s certainly wort fighting for. The county commissioners have an opportunity to help improve a critical element of business for our region and our residents. It’s time to do more than share your displeasure with the airline, it’s time to hold them accountable.

JOHN SHABLESKI

Linden

Submitted via email

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