If you haven’t heard, Horizon Air is departing from Flagstaff, but this time it is for good.
Questions abound, including whether the airline’s exit from Flagstaff and Prescott will affect area businesses.
Locals say yes, but maybe not to a huge degree. Still, several area company representatives say they enjoy jumping on a short flight from Flagstaff to Los Angeles. Without that option, many will choose to drive to Phoenix to catch a flight out of Sky Harbor, or other Valley airports. At this time, there are no other airlines with direct flights from Flagstaff to LAX.
Tim Vail, vice president of manufacturing and regulation for SenesTech, Inc. in Flagstaff, says he and many other employees fly Horizon and will miss the daily flights to the Los Angeles area.
“In the past year, I have traveled extensively on business to Asia (Philippines, China, Japan), and found that having the ability to fly directly from Flagstaff to LAX for an over- seas flight to be a great way to save time and travel expenses. With one exception (snowstorm in Flagstaff), I never had delays,and never had any problems with Horizon. I will miss this service and encourage the city to develop an alternative,” Vail said.
Research Associate Karen Chase agreed. “I liked that Horizon was in Flagstaff. I do not like driving down to Phoenix to catch a plane to L.A. It was so convenient! The staff on the planes were always nice. It was a good experience overall. Hopefully, we can change their minds about leaving Flagstaff,” Chase said.
But that isn’t likely to happen. In mid- June, Horizon Air announced that its flights from Flagstaff and Prescott to Los Angeles would discontinue, effective the end of August. While Horizon VP/Marketing and Communications Director Dan Russo said he understands some business travelers will be disappointed, he said the airline just was not making enough money here. “We recognize that robust air service is important to attracting and retaining businesses and had hoped that more people would have availed themselves of our services so that it would have been successful and we could have remained an asset to the business community,” Russo said.
Horizon Air started Flagstaff service in June 2008 and Prescott flights in September 2008. Russo acknowledges that the cities of Flagstaff and Prescott gave Horizon Air approximately $458,000 and $142,000, respectively, in revenue guarantees for the first year of operation. Flagstaff City Manager Kevin Burke said the city gave Horizon the money at the end of its first year of operation because the company did not fill at least 73 percent of its seats on planes during the first year of business. He added that the cities gave minimal incentives the second year in the way of counter space and waived landing fees.
There is also an issue relating to professional courtesy. Both Burke and Flagstaff airport manager, John Lauher, say they are extremely disappointed that Horizon officials did not bother to meet or talk with them or any other city officials prior to making the decision to pull out. City administrators say they only received emails from a Horizon representative stating the company was pulling out of Flagstaff. “We were shocked. Two months ago, we were all talking about the possibility of Horizon flying from Flagstaff to Las Vegas. Clearly there was some rethinking on the part of Horizon. We went out of our way to get them in here and gave them revenue. It just doesn’t seem right that you get an email. Honestly, we did not know they were leaving; we thought this was a kick in the pants,” Lauher said.
Richard Bowen, associate vice president for economic development at Northern Arizona University, says the departure is a bit of an economic blow, but adds that no one really knows for sure how much of a revenue loss it will be. He adds that many university officials fly with Horizon when they have business along the West Coast.
“Transportation is a key element and people have to get to your location for business. Horizon is part of that infrastructure, which allowed people to get here rather than fly to Phoenix and then drive. It will just make it more difficult for company officials to get here. This [Horizon pull out] will impact business travelers, but also tourists. There will be a loss of taxes, from hotels and restaurants, too,” Bowen added.
Both Lauher and Burke say there have been some talks with other carriers to set up in Flagstaff, but they would not release the names of those companies. Burke says there are no deals on the table with any other airlines at this time. US Airways still offers flights between Flagstaff and Phoenix.
Lauher says he will work hard to get another airline in Flagstaff. “Another airline is doable. It can definitely be profitable here,” he said. FBN