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Want Southwest? Keep DSM busy


It was a jolt to see the statement, “Get Southwest in here” in the business survey story in the May 23 Des Moines Business Record. (The statement was about how to improve air service in Des Moines.) It told me the education process is far from complete.

Southwest Airlines Inc. has been in business for more than 30 years. Not until a few months ago did the company decide to enter the Pittsburgh, Pa., market. The Pittsburgh airport boards more than 8 million passengers per year and has 14,000 parking spaces. Des Moines International Airport (DSM) did just short of 1 million enplanements last year and has 4,400 parking spaces.

There is a huge misperception among the public. An airport does not bring a carrier to town. A community attracts a carrier to come to town to do business. There are a number of ways to do that, but the most effective one is to show the airline that the members of the community support their airport. In other words, “If you want my money, you have to come to Des Moines to get it.”

I know that can be tough when the ticket price differential is significant. But the bitter truth is, if you choose to drive to another airport, you will always have to drive to that airport. No airline is going to go to the expense to bring its business to you if you continue to go to it. It will only go where it is convinced it can make a profit.

There is a good reason Kansas City International Airport is spending a lot of money advertising in Central Iowa. It misses your money and the power of your enplanements. It has been using your power for years to attract and retain air service. If we want improved service in Des Moines, we have to invest our power here.

I have had a lot of people say to me, “I had to drive to Omaha or Kansas City to save $100 (or, plug in your figure) on my last flight.” That is why I came up with the “Do the Math” thing. The Internal Revenue Service allows you to deduct 40.5 cents per mile for a business trip in your vehicle. If that is what it is worth on a business trip, does it not follow that it also costs that to operate your car for pleasure, too?

Consider round-trip miles times 40.5 cents, plus parking (someone can drop you off at DSM), plus meals and lodging, if necessary. Now, subtract that from the original ticket price difference. If you are truly saving money and you want to always drive to that airport, then, by all means, go.

In the past year, every carrier serving DSM has enhanced its service because of the increase in enplanements. They have brought in bigger planes, added daily flights to existing markets or started new markets. This is how the industry works. The more passengers available, the more services airlines can provide.

Bottom line: The airline industry landscape is totally different than it was just a few years ago. There was a time when an airline might come to town on a promise. Not anymore. Unless a community wants to subsidize a carrier (trust me, you don’t), that community must prove loyal patronage to its airport to attract the carrier’s attention. If an airline sees that you will not come to it, it will come to you.

DSM has eight carriers providing daily non-stop flights to 15 cities. When you look at other airports with comparable traffic, that is pretty darn good service.

Roy Criss is the marketing consultant at Des Moines International Airport.

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