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In 2000, officials at Will Rogers World Airport ramped up efforts to add nonstop flights from Oklahoma City to destinations on the East Coast, the West Coast and key points in between. Starting with nonstop service to Minneapolis-St. Paul in 2001, the airport has added a number of nonstop flights — including Newark, N.J., and Los Angeles — but lost a few along the way.
On Aug. 29, the airport will add nonstop service on United Airlines to San Francisco. New flights must make financial sense to the airlines, and airport officials know that to keep those flights here, it is a useit-or-lose-it situation.
Airport officials and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber often work for years to get an airline to add nonstop service, or increase the frequency of that service, but are well aware that airlines are not altruistic entities.
James Starnes, United’s director of domestic planning, says the flight was added for leisure travelers to benefit the bioscience communities working in OKC and the Bay Area, and as a connection for travelers going on to Asia and Australia.
For 2010, the OKC Department of Airports ranked the San Francisco Bay Area, which included San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, as the 11th top destination for OKC passengers. To get there, however, travelers originating from OKC had to stop in other cities and catch additional flights.
For differing reasons, OKC has lost nonstop service to several destinations. In 2007, ExpressJet began offering service to San Antonio; San Diego; Ontario;
Sacramento, Calif.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Austin, Texas. That service ceased in 2008 when the carrier exited the market, citing a nationwide scaling back of operations due to high fuel costs.
Likewise, Continental Airlines added nonstop service from OKC to Cleveland in 2007, which was lost in 2008 due to high fuel costs. Oklahoma City flights to Orlando and Tampa, Fla., on Frontier Airlines was gained and lost in 2010 as the airline chose to move those planes to service more lucrative routes.Cancelled Nonstop Flights from OKC (2000-2011)
Albuquerque on ExpressJet (2007-2008)
Austin on ExpressJet (2007-2008)
Cleveland on Continental Airlines (2007-2008)
Ontario on ExpressJet (2007-2008)
Orlando on Frontier Airlines (2010-2010)
Sacramento on ExpressJet (2007-2008)
San Antonio on ExpressJet (2007-2008)
San Diego on ExpressJet (2007-2008)
Tampa on Frontier Airlines (2010-2010) Source: Oklahoma City Department of Airports
Karen Carney, public information and marketing manager at the airport, says Orlando currently is the most underserved market for nonstop service from OKC. Other underserved destinations on the airport’s nonstop wish list would be the Pacific Northwest, she says.
Carney says no international flights are on the drawing board, although the airport is equipped to handle larger aircraft. One hurdle, she says, is working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to staff the airport with personnel to process air travelers entering the country. Plans in the coming years to expand the terminal also could make it easier to add international flights.
Robin Roberts Krieger, executive vice president for economic development at the chamber, says United’s upcoming San Francisco route was a big win for the city.
“We’ve known for several years that many Oklahoma passengers are going to the Bay Area,” she says. “We finally had the justification for nonstop service, and that it would be profitable.”
Kreiger says the chamber tracks things such as company growth, job growth, income growth and sector growth when making a case to airlines for new and additional service.
“You never want to talk to an airline about new nonstop service unless you know they can make it work,” she says.“We worked diligently for five years with United recruiting San Francisco because the data showed Oklahoma City and the region would support the service.”