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Air fares, service to JRA improve

Posted on 8/1/2012

By: Kari Lucin

"The Jamestown Sun"

Both the timeliness and the pricing for commercial air service to Jamestown Regional Airport have significantly improved in the past few weeks.

"We'd just like to encourage our passengers, our customers to give us a try again, and I think they will like the new service out there," said Jim Boyd, chairman of the Jamestown Regional Airport Authority.

The numbers show that changes resulting from a meeting of high-profile government and airline officials in Washington, D.C., have resulted in both improved prices and more reliable service to Jamestown.

Boardings at Jamestown Regional Airport plummeted after Delta Air Lines pulled out of Jamestown in March, to be replaced by Great Lakes Aviation of Cheyenne, Wyo.

After the transition, people began to complain that fares for flights through Minneapolis to other destinations - controlled by Delta - were no longer competitive with fares from Bismarck and Fargo airports, when booked through Delta.com or travel agencies.

Fare prices to Minneapolis - controlled by Great Lakes - were still considered reasonable, generally costing between $169 and $200 round-trip.

There is evidence that prices for through flights have significantly improved.

"There have been some improvements, but not as much as we'd like yet," said Jackie Tarpinian, co-owner of Globe International Travel.

Sometimes, Tarpinian said, it is cheaper if fares to Minneapolis are booked separately with connecting fares to other locations.

For round-trip flights a month out, Jamestown had cheaper fares than Bismarck and Fargo for five of 15 randomly-selected destinations on Delta.com. For flights a week out, Jamestown was cheapest for six out of 15 of the destinations.

And even when Jamestown is not the cheapest, it is the only one of the three airports to offer free parking, which costs $5.50 per day in Fargo and $7 per day in Bismarck.

Boyd said he'd heard few complaints about prices recently, which he sees as a positive sign.

"I'm thinking that's not the big issue right now," he added.

Reliability improved

Reliability of Great Lakes flights was also an issue immediately after the transition from Delta.

"It has improved and we're still working on that, and we will continue to work on that," said Monica Taylor-Lee, director of public relations with Great Lakes.

The numbers for on-time flights from Great Lakes had sunk below 50 percent, but have improved since to 80 percent, said Matt Leitner, JRA manager.

"We're moving forward," Leitner said.

Taylor-Lee attributed some of the reliability improvements to a new schedule that was implemented July 8.

"We're always trying to see where we can better utilize the aircraft, because it's such a new market for us," Taylor-Lee said. "Again, it's getting back into it and ensuring our airplanes have enough time to get from point A to B and get back."

Since the new schedule was implemented, Jamestown is no longer linked to Williston's airport, but instead is linked with Devils Lake.

"That was always an issue. (The flight) was coming in late in the morning and it kind of disrupted a lot of our passengers," Boyd said. "Now we're linked with Devils Lake and they're much more prompt on arrivals and departures."

Great Lakes and Delta have also developed a more effective communication channel so that if a Great Lakes flight is delayed, Delta is made aware of it and can help the passenger find flight alternatives.

"It has improved, and we're still working on that, and we will continue to work on that and we're hoping for 100 percent," Taylor-Lee said. "But it's a constant effort to try and get to that point."

"Time will tell, I guess," Boyd said.

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453 or by email at klucin@jamestownsun.com