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When Tim Berney flies out of Oklahoma City on business, he almost always chooses direct flights.
Spending less time in airports means more time generating revenue, and those direct flights typically are to Atlanta, Denver, Kansas City and Phoenix.
“There’s a big difference in business between taking a couple of hours to get to your destination or taking the better part of the day to get there,” says Berney, president of VI Marketing and Branding in Oklahoma City.
With the percentage of flights and total seat capacity of airlines flying from Will Rogers World Airport steadily increasing, additional direct flights are in the works to Chicago Midway and Washington, D.C.’s Ronald Reagan National Airport, bringing the airport’s number of daily direct flights to 21.
Chicago’s Midway is a coup for Will Rogers. Besides being the largest airport in Southwest Airlines’ service, Chicago is one of Oklahoma City’s largest airport markets with nonstop service.
And the business community is taking notice. Executives know that adding a market like Chicago can only increase opportunities in Oklahoma City.
“A Chicago direct flight is huge, and it’s sure to generate more travel between both cities,” Berney says. “People choose where to do business based on how easy it is to travel there. It’s sometimes hard to travel to Oklahoma City because there aren’t that many direct flights.”
Currently, Will Rogers offers nonstop flights to Baltimore, Dallas Love Field, Houston Hobby, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Phoenix, St. Louis, Denver and others. The growth is promising, but not all direct routes have been so successful.
The response to United Airlines’ nonstop flight to San Francisco has been tepid. According to Will Rogers World Airport spokeswoman Karen Carney, the average load factor for that direct route has been 40% to 50%. A successful load factor hovers in the 80% range.
“We were excited to get that route, but it’s really struggling,” she says. “We hope people will use it and that it’s a seasonal thing that will pick up in the summer. United Airlines is giving that route a chance, though. Many airlines would have pulled it after a few months of low load factor.”
If Southwest secures a direct flight into Washington, D.C., business could pick up even more. So far, the company is competing with two other carriers for the two open slots at Ronald Reagan National Airport and awaits word from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“We feel like Southwest has a strong case,” Carney says. “We filed a formal response, as well, and engaged in a letter-writing campaign from people like our governor, Mayor Mick Cornett and leading businessmen in Oklahoma City.”
The decision was expected to be made in May.
But business is on the rise, and has been for several years.
“March 2011 was our 11th consecutive month of growth,” Carney says. “We saw a 7% increase in travel in March, and we are already up 7.5% for the year. By May, we hope to have a full year of straight growth.”