Flying for Peanuts.
Increased competition is making for clear skies overhead for Utah business travelers as airlines try harder to please by offering greater levels of service and lower fares. The trend toward discount air travel appears to be finding a welcome market in the state, particularly at a time when local firms are looking for new ways to control costs.
Southwest Airlines, the national no frills airline has led the way by offering low fare flights while still maintaining high levels of customer service. In fact, their corporate website boasts that the airline has ranked No. 1 in fewest customer complaints over the last nine consecutive years based on the statistics of the monthly Department of Transportation's Air Travel Consumer Report.
This is even more impressive given that Southwest handles more than 2,700 flights a day and last year carried 63.7 million passengers to their destination. With a reservation center in Salt Lake City, the airline has faced stiff local competition from domestic low fare carriers such as Frontier Airlines.
Frontier Airlines, the Denver-based carrier, is a relative newcomer that has been in operation since 1994. Service features include advanced seat assignments, electronic ticketing, flight status paging notification, quality in-flight snacks and "Early Returns," Frontier's frequent flyer plan.
Frontier presents all of its seats at various discount fares and offers a corporate discount program to small, medium and large businesses. The airline recently signed its 6,000th corporate account. Increasingly, small and medium-sized businesses are managing their travel needs by accessing Frontier's website to benefit from corporate rebates, direct booking capabilities, and reporting information about their company's travel and accounting history.
The new kid on the block, also with a reservation center in Utah, is JetBlue Airways led by Utah native, David Neeleman. Founder and former president of Morris Air, Neelaman sold the high-service/low-fare Salt Lake City carrier to Southwest Airlines in 1993. JetBlue took to the air in February 2000 with $130 million in financing from such respected investors as George Soros and Chase Capital.
JetBlue has already had some notable achievements. In February, it was voted the country's No. 2 economy airline in the annual Zagat Airline Survey. JetBlue outscored all the major airlines, much to Neeleman's delight. "To be voted the country's No. 2 economy airline by the people who fly us means that we're doing exactly what we set out to do when we launched a year ago," he said in a JetBlue press release. "That is, bringing humanity back to air travel by offering passengers low fares, great customer service and friendly staff."
JetBlue's fleet of 11 brand new Airbus A320 aircraft operates 64 flights a day, including a daily service from Salt Lake City to JFK Airport in New York. Ail passengers enjoy, free of charge, the luxury of spacious leather seats with 24-channel satellite television.
Implications for Business Travelers
Discount airlines offer a welcome alternative to the major airlines, and in many cases, the service is as good if not better, but at a lower price. Why spend $900 to fly from New York to Salt Lake City on a major airline, when a comparable flight is only $99 to $249 each way on JetBlue? And yet, is going with the lowest fare always the best choice for the business traveler?
Not surprisingly, Michael A. Cameron, president of Utah-based Christopherson Business Travel, claims, "Discount or Internet tickets are not the way for the businessman. There is no backup for an Internet ticket, no refunds, no changes, and no exchanges. The business traveler often must make so many changes, with no support from the Internet. Sometimes it is very unwise and can be very costly for the business person to take risks while traveling."
For business travelers who can work around a limited choice of flights, discount airlines may be a worthwhile option, as long as you're confident you won't need to change your travel plans. A last-minute flight change can easily wipe out initial discount airfare savings. When choosing to purchase bargain flights, check before booking to see if the airline offers exchangeable tickets and if so, be sure the price is still lower than other carriers.
Peter Murphy (email@example.com) is a former telecom executive now working as a freelance business writer.
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|Title Annotation:||discount airlines; Frontier Airlines Inc., JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines Co.|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2001|
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