June 20, 2008

Amarillo, Texas-Area Business Travel Sends Ticket Sales to High Altitude

By Chris Ramirez, Amarillo Globe-News, Texas

Jun. 18--Rising ticket prices and new fees for checked luggage apparently haven't stopped travelers from boarding flights in Amarillo, if just-released airport data is any indicator.

In all, 184,211 passengers flew out of Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport from Jan. 1 to May 30, compared with 178,420 during the same period last year, according to a monthly report published by the city.

The Amarillo Convention & Visitor Council believes the trend more spotlights the Panhandle's solid business climate than its attractiveness to tourists and thrill-seekers.

"Business travel is driving most of it," council spokesman Eric Miller said. "The mortgage and credit crises nationally haven't hit Amarillo as hard as it has California, Las Vegas, Florida and other more volatile markets.

"They (business fliers) are still willing to go where business is flourishing."

City officials have not speculated on what passenger traffic may be by the end of 2008, though it has increased each year since 2003, when 384,521 people boarded planes in Amarillo.

Last year, 457,960 passengers flew out of Rick Husband airport, 275,329 of them aboard Southwest Airlines jets.

Miller hopes more recreational fliers will eventually add to the airport's summer-passenger traffic, but acknowledged some might be hesitant because of increasing costs.

Southwest, one of three carriers that serve Amarillo, has yet to follow the lead of other airlines that impose surcharges on luggage. The other carriers have said the fees were necessary to cover soaring jet fuel prices.

Parent companies for American Eagle and Continental Express, the city's other airlines, began charging such fees this month.

Rick Husband airport also is undergoing an aggressive $35 million expansion, which is to be completed by late spring or early summer 2009.

Air-traffic projections in the Panhandle and South Plains come as results of a J.D. Power and Associates 2008 North America Airline Satisfaction Study were released Tuesday.

The study found deteriorating levels of customer service provided by airline staff -- rather than high fares and additional charges for amenities -- have led to a significant decline in customer satisfaction.

"The bottom line is vacations are a personal decision," Miller, of the visitor council, said. "While we're hoping people will be traveling here this year and next year (for fun), energy prices are starting to affect people's personal economies."

The South Plains' largest airport experienced a similar trend.

At Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport, passenger traffic for the year to date was up modestly, but monthly traffic was down 4.4 percent, city records show.

There, a total of 237,221 passengers boarded planes from January to May, compared to 231,546 for the same period a year ago.

Traffic on Continental Express in Lubbock in May was down 26.3 percent from May 2007.

Lubbock officials project that 598,578 passengers will board flights throughout 2008. Last year, Lubbock's airport had 584,258 passengers.

ANNUAL BOARDING: Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport

Year--total passengers--percentage of change from previous year

2003 -- 384,521 -- down 1.1

2004 -- 415,066 -- up 7.9

2005 -- 444,886 -- up 7.2

2006 -- 445,066 -- no change

2007 -- 457,960 -- up 2.9

ANNUAL BOARDING: Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport

Year--total passengers--percentage of change from previous year

2003 -- 514,250 -- up 0.2

2004 -- 541,549 -- up 5.3

2005 -- 553,688 -- up 2.2

2006 -- 568,918 -- up 2.8

2007 -- 584,258 -- up 2.7

Sources: cities of Amarillo, Lubbock


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