Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 20, 2013

Cleveland flights come to Traverse City

By KATHY GIBBONS kgibbons@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — United Airlines will begin offering peak season service between Cleveland and Traverse City on Saturdays starting June 9.

It’s part of Cherry Capital Airport’s ongoing quest to expand seats and direct flights that link Traverse City to airlines’ hubs. Cleveland is one of United’s hubs and helps open service to and from the southern U.S., said Airport Director Kevin Klein.

“It basically allows us more connectivity through United’s hub networks,” Klein said. “Cleveland offers a lot of the northern Ohio folks and western Pennsylvania folks to be able to vacation and do business in our community. And with the Cleveland hub, it also opens up more East Coast destinations, and the Southeast region of the United States — Georgia, the Carolinas, Florida.”

Brad Van Dommelen, president of the Traverse City Convention & Visitors Bureau, said tourists from Ohio are increasing in the Grand Traverse region.

“We have seen growth in the Ohio market, specifically the Cleveland area, and also Columbus, in the last several years,” he said.

United’s weekend service to Cleveland will employ a 50-seat Embraer 145 aircraft, departing from Cleveland at 8:40 a.m., arriving in Traverse City at 10 a.m. and leaving again at 10:30 to get back to Cleveland at 11:47 a.m. The service will be offered Saturdays through Aug. 24. Klein didn’t have information on fares, but a random check Tuesday for the Traverse City outbound flight on July 20 showed a fare of $446.

Cherry Capital Airport consultant Tom Rockne called United’s decision a “big win” for Traverse City. Coming on the heels of the airline’s recent announcement of direct weekend service between Traverse City and its hub at Newark Liberty International Airport starting this summer, Traverse City is a market with promise for growth, he said.

“We are increasing the number of seats into Traverse City and the bottom line there is, when you’re increasing seats, you’re also increasing lower-fare seats,” Rockne said. “So it’s steady growth, especially when the carriers — Delta, United, American, the big carriers — are reducing seats on a nationwide basis.

“So when we get seats when other small and medium-size markets are losing seats, that becomes an even bigger win.”

Rockne added Traverse City continues to make the case for airlines to expand seats here.

“That’s a common message: ‘We can fill your airplanes, we can help you do that profitably,’ and that’s no small task when you are facing competition from other medium and small airports that are putting chunks of cash on the table to entice people to bring service,” Rockne said. “We’re not. We’re doing it the old-fashioned way — we’re earning that service by filling the seats we have now and showing them consistent growth.”

Van Dommelen said he’d like to see the airlines reinstate service once offered in Traverse City to Texas, another growing market for tourists. And he and the other officials said the next step would be for seasonal service to expand into the “shoulder” spring and fall seasons, if not year-round.

“I think they want to see success with these summer flights first,” he said.

Klein said the airport is still waiting for official announcements of this summer’s schedules from American and Delta. However, he’s been watching the airlines’ websites and said so far it looks like Delta will extend its weekend flights to Atlanta by two additional weeks and that American’s service to New York’s LaGuardia Airport appears to be starting two weeks earlier as well.

“Usually mid April is when we solidify all of that,” Klein said. “Hopefully we’ll be hearing in the next two weeks.”