Tulsa-Los Angeles nonstop flights canceled; Tulsa losing flights as OKC gains
BY D.R. STEWART World Staff Writer
Sunday, February 03, 2013
2/04/13 at 9:46 AM
Joseph Abraham's commute to Los Angeles will be more difficult come April.
The Tulsa resident works for PSI, an employment assessment consultant based in Burbank, Calif. And for the past several years, he has flown United Airlines' daily roundtrip flight from Tulsa to Los Angeles International Airport.
But United Airlines announced in January it is ending its Tulsa-to-Los Angeles service, effective April 1.
"It becomes an inconvenience," Abraham said. "I will have to fly through somewhere, like Phoenix or Las Vegas. It will be more difficult. It's going to take five hours instead of 2 1/2 hours. I'll probably have to come in the night before."
United Airlines spokeswoman Mary Clark said the Chicago-based carrier is canceling its four weekly flights from Tulsa to Los Angeles due to the "financial performance" of the flight.
"It's driven by the low demand of passengers," Clark said.
The loss of United's flight to Los Angeles is the third time Tulsa has lost nonstop service to Los Angeles.
In the last 10 years, American Airlines and Great Plains Airlines started and ended service to Los Angeles.
One hundred miles away in Oklahoma City, however, Will Rogers World Airport has three daily roundtrip flights to Los Angeles - two on American Airlines and one on United Airlines - and serves more destinations with more frequencies.
While Will Rogers World Airport has lost 17 percent of its air service during the last decade, Tulsa International Airport has lost 31 percent of its daily flights, airport officials said.
The capital city's airport continues to gain service - in April, it will add a daily roundtrip flight to Cleveland - as Tulsa International loses service because of a number of reasons.
Among them are Oklahoma City's larger population base, state government, the state's largest university, Tinker Air Force Base, the Federal Aviation Administration's Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center and a thriving business community, airport and industry analysts said.
"For Oklahoma City, some of the things that have factored into our success would be the business connections between cities," said Karen Carney, Will Rogers World Airport marketing manager. "We have been trying to get San Francisco for some time. One of the things that really helped us was the bioscience sector here.
"Multiple businesses anchored by the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center - the combination of the hospital, education and research - put together with some business travel to Asia convinced United Airlines that business travelers would support that route."
Days of competition gone
Carney said airlines want to make sure there is a solid base of travelers before they add new routes. The energy business being conducted in the area of the Utica Shale (northeastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and southwestern New York) helped secure Cleveland, she said.
Having the capital of the state, the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center and Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma City has a lot of business before the federal government, which helped with the nonstop to Baltimore and the Washington, D.C., area, she said.
"Of course, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the growing number of sporting events (rowing, horse shows, women's softball) have also contributed to the growing number of tourists and visitors to Oklahoma City," Carney said.
Industry analysts and consultants said the day is long gone in the airline business when carriers would compete on price and frequency on a particular route.
"In the first quarter, the airlines are flying 2 percent less seats, which means fewer people are getting on airplanes," said Michael Boyd, chairman of Boyd Group International, an airline consultant in Evergreen, Colo.
"Airlines aren't chasing volume anymore. There's not a lot of overlap. The airlines aren't going to have an open war. There are so few players now that it doesn't make any sense. They're going to try to maximize revenue on the planes they have."
All too often, the airlines have decided they can make more money flying elsewhere than in the Tulsa market, industry officials said.
"If an airline has a flight that's not making money consistently, they will pull the flight," said Alexis Higgins, deputy airports director of marketing at the Tulsa Airport Authority. "They can put the plane in another market and make money on it."
Routes of success, failure
Higgins said four factors play into the success or failure of an airline route - flight times, frequency, price and passenger loyalty to an airline or frequent flier program.
Take the Los Angeles route, for instance.
The United flight departed Tulsa at 7:55 a.m. and arrived in Los Angeles at 9:20 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.
The return flight departed Los Angeles at 4:20 p.m., arriving in Tulsa at 9:16 p.m.
Higgins said the LA flights could have been timed better.
"Let's say it takes one hour for you to get to your (Los Angeles) meeting, at 10:20 a.m.," Higgins said. "In order to catch your (return) flight at 4:20 p.m., you're going to have to drive through LA traffic and get to the airport one hour before the flight. So you're going to be able to stay on the ground in LA for three hours.
"For business travelers, it's all about schedule - spending the least amount of time in airports and being productive."
Abraham, the Tulsa business commuter to Los Angeles, said the United flight could be successful if the flight times were adjusted.
"They haven't done a great job with it," Abraham said. "They moved around the time a lot. Occasionally, you can make a single meeting and get back, but most of the time you want two full days. The most irritating thing is to have to spend an extra day in a hotel room after your meetings are done."
Asked his plans after April, Abraham said he isn't sure.
"I'll probably end up flying to Burbank with Southwest," he said. "Maybe with American getting these new regional jets, they will try (LA service) again."
Original Print Headline: Flight failures
D.R. Stewart 918-581-8451
TULSA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
Tulsa World file
WILL ROGERS WORLD AIRPORT
COURTESY / The Oklahoman
A Southwest airlines Boeing 737-700 prepares for departure at Tulsa International Airport. Southwest is one of four airlines that provide service at the airport. TOM GILBERT / Tulsa World file