September 1, 2008

Traveling Light

By Bair, Jessica


Businesspeople on the go look for expanded service, cheapest fares

Like anyone else, business travelers are pinching their pennies these days. They're searching for the least expensive flight and hotel room during their stay said Kim Bair, travel manager at Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Manchester Township, York County.

Airlines appear to be working to entice the leisure traveler more than the business traveler, Bair said. She mainly arranges travel for business clients at Carlson, which deals with about 40 percent corporate travelers and 60 percent leisure travelers.

"A lot of the air fares require a Saturday night stay to get the cheapest price," Bair said. "Business travelers usually don't travel over the weekend."

Travelers also must purchase their tickets between 14 and 21 days in advance to lock in the cheap est air fare, which hinders business travelers who might do a lot of last- minute flying, she said.

While air fares are not affecting the way Brian Hudson travels, the available service is. Hudson is executive director and chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

Last fall, U.S. Airways Inc. cut some of its daily flights to and from Pittsburgh at Harrisburg International Airport in such a way that it made more sense for Hudson to drive nearly four hours to Pittsburgh for business meetings, said Carrie Barnes, executive assistant for the agency. He has been driving to and from the meetings ever since.

"He had to literally waste a full day in travel time, the majority of which was at the airports," Barnes said. "And the times rarely coincided with good flight times for his meetings."

For midstate business travelers heading to Pittsburgh, the challenge of getting to meetings in western Pennsylvania will be further limited Sept. 2, when U.S. Airways eliminates its nonstop service to Pittsburgh from HIA.

"The co sts and fees had little to do with his flying habits. It is basically the timing of the flights. Now, next month there won't even be air service between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. That is the real killer."

During the first half of the year, about 58 percent of travel at Harris- burg International Airport was for business purposes, which is about even with last year, said Scott Miller, spokesman for the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority. The authority owns and operates the Dauphin County airport.

"Business travel has remained relatively steady this year versus last year because the level of service is relatively the same," Miller said.

Members ofthe airport's business fliers club - the Susquehanna Club - have not appeared to change their flying habit, either, with between 70 and 75 members traveling each day, he said. Members of the club travel 25,000 miles or more each year.

The airlines have been trying to raise fares for the past few months as the cost of fuel spiked, Miller said. But it's not easy, he said.

"Airlines, on ana tionalbasis, have a hard time raising fares because if one airline doesn't raise its fare, all the rest will rescind the increase," Miller said. "We're not as brand loyal as we used to be."

And while airlines may sell a ticket one month, the traveler may not use the service until two months later, and the cost to perform the service could go up within that time frame. As a result, airlines are tacking on additional traveler expenses, such as baggage fees and charging fliers for a can of soda, to help offset increased costs, he said.

"Fares need to go up," Miller said. "They're trying, but it's difficult."

Jim Pfister heads toward the terminal at Harrisburg International Airport in Lower Swatara Township, Dauphin County, Aug. 6 to catch an early-morning flight. Pfister was headed to Kansas on business. He owns Mechanicsburg-based Finished Goods Enterprises Inc., a packing-line consulting company.

Early-morning passengers wait to pass through security at Harrisburg International Airport in Dauphin County.

"Business travel has remained relatively steady this year versus last year because the level of service is relatively the same."

Scott Miller, Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority


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Copyright Journal Publications Inc. Aug 15, 2008

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