Your help is needed to keep low-cost air service on Coast

Your help is needed to keep low-cost air service on Coast

Earlier this week we reported the purchase of AirTran by Southwest Airlines. The obvious question is: What does that mean to South Mississippi? A lot more than you might realize. AirTran is a low-cost carrier, and even though it flies to and from Gulfport only three days a week, its presence here has definitely reduced air travel costs. But to keep it here, several of our casinos have been helping underwrite AirTran’s service by guaranteeing a specific number of seats on each AirTran flight.

Sure, the casinos benefited from the additional air service, but because AirTran doesn’t limit its flights to casino patrons, we all have enjoyed lower cost air travel out of the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. Compare flights with Mobile and you’ll see how much we’ve been saving.
Now it’s time for AirTran to contract for another year of service. Before committing, AirTran needs a guarantee of at least $750,000 worth of seats; to expand service to seven days will require a $2 million guarantee. AirTran is not asking for donations, but the company is asking businesses and individuals who fly often to commit to make their flights — or at least some of them — on AirTran.

What’s this got to do with Southwest? Although Southwest is buying AirTran, there is no guarantee that Southwest will continue all of AirTran’s routes. If AirTran is still flying out of this market when the deal is consummated next year, there’s a good chance Southwest will bring its low-cost service to our airport. If AirTran is gone next year, we’re told there is almost no chance Southwest will fly in and out of Gulfport.
So preserving AirTran service is the best way to attract Southwest. And a carrier like AirTran or Southwest is the only way to keep our tickets prices from escalating.

The deadline to make a non-binding pledge to the Airline Travel Bank is Oct. 5.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce and Mississippi Gulf Coast Business Council are encouraging local business and other frequent fliers to pledge to this travel bank. You can read more about the pledge and download a pledge form at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Business Council’s Web site, www.msgcbc.org, or the Coast Chamber’s Web site at www.mscoastchamber.com.
If enough pledges are made to convince AirTran to stay another year, you’ll be asked to deposit the amount you pledge in an account from which you will draw as you use the flights.

Remember, you’re not asked to donate money, just look at your travel plans for 2011 and commit a portion of it to the Airline Travel Bank. By doing so, you can help keep low-cost air service on the Coast.
This editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board, which consists of President-Publisher Glen Nardi, Vice President and Executive Editor Stan Tiner, Opinion Page Editor B. Marie Harris, Associate Editor Tony Biffle, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Flora S. Point and Marketing Services Director John McFarland. Opinions expressed by columnists, cartoonists and letter writers are their own.

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