What the airport really needs is steady business travel, a travel agent says.
VIENNA -- Travel agents in Mahoning and Trumbull counties say they're enthused about selling flights out of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, but need to hear more from -- and about -- Pan Am Clipper Connection.
Dru Winings of AAA Travel, Niles, said the Trumbull County office of the Ohio Motorists Association has yet to receive any literature from the carrier and is hoping it will make contact soon. The staff has looked up Pan Am online and registered to book flights, she said.
"We don't sell what we don't know," said Chuck Petzinger, president of Pan Atlas Travel, Cleveland, reached in Youngstown last week. He said the airline should reach out to travel agencies and include them in the process.
A sales team is scheduled to travel here this month and make visits to travel agencies about the airline and the sales commissions it offers, said Stacy Beck, director of stations for Pan Am and Boston-Maine Airways. Pan Am will open its ticket counter at the airport Monday.
"There will be a sales blitz real soon to get them familiar with the service," she said.
Julie Costas, director of marketing at Carlson Wagonlit Travel's Boardman corporate office, was at the airport two weeks ago when Pan Am's flights, starting Sept. 15, were announced. She wasn't there by invitation -- but at her boss' request.
Costas said she touched base with Steve Bowser, airport director of aviation; William Reali, chairman of the Western Reserve Port Authority; and Vic Rubenstein, president of Rubenstein Associates, Liberty, which is marketing the Vienna township airport.
"All of the travel agencies want this to work," she said. "It's good for the community and it's good for the airport."
Flights at an average $110 to $120 one-way will be to and from St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla.; Orlando/Sanford, Fla.; Newburgh, N.Y.; and Aguadilla and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Dominican Republic service will be announced.
"We hope to do complete packages from all of the destinations they are selling," Costas said.
Carlson Wagonlit, she said, had sold a lot of flights when another company, Vacation Express, offered leisure flights from the airport until last September.
When to stop
Vacation Express said its decision to stop after six months was prompted by high fuel costs and the normal fall seasonal slowdown. The flights began with the help of $300,000 from the port authority, which borrowed the money from Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Vacation Express offered flights but didn't have its own planes, and had asked for an additional $50,000 to $100,000 to continue the service for three or four months.
Success of the Pan Am venture will depend on the price and other offerings, Costas said, such as the offer of free parking, plus shorter lines and faster security checks.
"We would like to see Miami added for business customers," she added.
Essential to success is a competitive price, Costas said, noting the closeness of airlines serving the airports in Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Akron-Canton.
"Around here, fortunately for the pricing, we've got four airports," added Renee Derr, an owner of 4 Star Travel Inc., Cortland. "Not too many areas have that luxury. You're checking to give people the best price, and Youngstown didn't always come in at that."
She said, however, that 4 Star Travel also supported Vacation Express and flew a lot of people from the airport.
Pan-Am says it needs to have 60-percent-full flights to succeed here.
"Sixty percent, whew, that's a lot," Derr noted.
She said she suspects Pan Am's Florida routes will do "phenomenal. ... That's a no-brainer." It's harder to predict the volume for the Puerto Rico destinations, she said, noting that cruise lines do operate from there.
"The Florida ones are absolutely salable. Those are good," added AAA's Winings.
She looked up Newburgh, N.Y., on a map and said it's about 60 miles north of New York City; people also can drive to New Jersey from there to meet cruise lines.
"We don't know why they picked the destinations they did," Winings said.
"These routes we've chosen were, No. 1, the routes we fly to," Pan Am's Beck explained. "We've tried to give them service into almost every route that we serve."
The routes also were based upon feedback from the port authority and the community, Beck added,.
"Who from Youngstown is going to fly to whatever that place is in New York?" questioned Pan Atlas' Petzinger. He stressed he'd "love nothing better than to see Youngstown work," but expressed reservations.
"These newer carriers make us very nervous," Petzinger said. "We approach these with great trepidation because we worry about the long-term viability of the carrier."
Pan Atlas didn't sell any Vacation Express travel because of concerns about its viability, he said.
As for Pan Am, Petzinger will book flights "only if people would use a credit card. You have federally mandated protections" to get money back if the service is not provided, as long as a claim is filed within 90 days, he noted.
Furthermore, Petzinger said a once-a-year vacation flight does not make for a successful airport. "To me, an airport is viable if you have consistent business travel -- the guy who travels once a month, twice a month. That really is the mainstay of an airport," he said.
The problem locally is that few remaining corporate headquarters are big enough to support that level of business travel, he said. Akron-Canton, he noted, has corporate presence by Hoover, Timken, Diebold and Goodyear, and carriers such as USAir, Northwest, AirTran and Frontier. It offers convenience for the business traveler, he said.
Petzinger's business partner has a location at the Akron-Canton airport, where the marketing staff is "very savvy."
Beck said Pan Am will look for local feedback on where business travelers from here want to go. "We definitely are looking to capture a business market," she said, agreeing that regular fliers are what make an airline succeed.
For now, the vacation destinations from here have had some past success. Orlando/Sanford was the big market for Vacation Express.
Mary Ann Dwyer, manager of Tippecanoe Travel Service in Youngstown, is hopeful that there will be enough planes available this time to avoid delays, which upset the customers.
"We don't get to sell San Juan that much," she added. She's hoping Pan Am will open up "a new area for us to sell." There are beautiful resorts and gambling in San Juan, and people like that, she added.
The flight schedule, however, shows the San Juan flight departing Youngstown at 8:45 a.m. and arriving at 7:15 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Sunday -- with one stop and a plane change. The return flight departs 9 a.m. and arrives at 6:05 p.m. Monday and Thursday, with two stops but no plane change.
That is a long travel day and may figure into the sale, Dwyer said; possibly it can be overcome by price. But she noted heading to San Juan from Pittsburgh on another carrier is a lot quicker: 7:25 a.m. to Charlotte, N.C., changing planes, then arriving at 1:16 p.m.
"The price has to be there," she stressed. "If we can support the airport, we're going to try to do that."