Tar Heel Tattler - November 2005

Greensboro aiport misses its runaways
By Arthur O. Murray

Starting in 1993, when Continental Airlines launched discount flights — since discontinued — from there, Greensboro was heaven for passengers who said the devil with higher prices at Charlotte/ Douglas International Airport. Charlotte officials figured it would take a miracle to get those travelers back. Believe.

Thanks to a covey of new discount airlines, Charlotte boardings in July were 14.3% higher than a year earlier. They were up 16.8% in June. But good times at Charlotte haven’t been so good for Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, where boardings fell 4.8% in June and 8.3% in July.

Correlation? Absolutely, says Ted Johnson, executive director of the Greensboro airport. As a hub for US Airways, Charlotte had more direct flights but higher prices. “They now have some low-fare service in Charlotte, so I think those folks are staying at home. That’s the best explanation I have.”

Michelle Gunter, a travel agent at AAA Vacations in Charlotte, says customers still ask about Greensboro. But she says US Airways, which still has about 90% of the flights at Charlotte, dropped prices to compete after a trip to Chapter 11 bankruptcy court. After merging with America West and moving its headquarters from Arlington, Va., to Phoenix, US Airways bills itself now as a low-fare airline.

Meanwhile, discounters AirTran Airways, based in Orlando, Fla., and Independence Air, based in Dulles, Va., began serving Charlotte. Gunter says US Airways roundtrip flights from Charlotte to the major Florida cities cost $200 to $240. Flights to the same cities from Greensboro cost about $200. “They can get someone to drop them off and pick them up here,” she says. “If they go to Greensboro, they have to park. It’s just not worth it.”

Of course, competition giveth and taketh away, so Charlotte could find its new popularity waning. In late September, Independence cut Charlotte flights from six to three a day. And two prominent carriers at Piedmont Triad International — Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest Airlines — filed for Chapter 11, which could change flights and fares in Greensboro.

For now, however, the decline in passengers has put the brakes on at least one airport project: a $27 million, 3,000-space parking deck. It’s in the design phase and will stay there for now, Johnson says. “If we see a spurt in growth, we’ll do it.” When? Lord knows.