Almost 17 years ago, in March 2001, the city’s fledgling Great Plains Airlines completed a takeover of Ozark Air, a merger that officials told us would clear the way for nonstop flights from Tulsa to the East Coast “within months.”
We’re still waiting.
Great Plains, if you can stomach the memories, was a $30 million effort to boost economic development by making it easier to get to and from both coasts. Funded partly with state tax credits and a complicated bank loan through the Tulsa Industrial Authority, the airline took off promising to go to places like New York and Los Angeles. Instead, it took people to places like Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Nashville, Tennessee. Fine destinations, but not exactly economic game-changers.
Great Plains went bankrupt in 2004, triggering a convoluted court battle that would drag on for more than a decade.
In the meantime, however, Tulsa pressed ahead with economic development and downtown revitalization. And now we’re starting to see the kind of air service that we always wanted.
Frontier Airlines announced last week that it will add uninterrupted flights to both coasts — nonstop service to the Bay Area with flights to San Jose, California, and flights to Washington Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C.
That’s in addition to existing nonstop routes to more than a dozen cities, including coastal destinations like Los Angeles and Baltimore.
We still can’t get to New York or New England without a layover. But someday.
The trick, I think, has been building the kind of city that people want to visit, so the flights won’t be filled only by Tulsans visiting the coasts, but by people from the coasts visiting Tulsa, too. We might should have tried that in the first place.