Saturday, November 20, 2010
Rainy day in LA and my plan to waste your tax dollars
Well, since it's rainy day here in LA, I'm sitting here packing for my trip next week back to Missouri next Tuesday
The first variable I looked at when planning my trip was what to do once I got to Saint Louis. while I could rent a car, the truth is I wouldn't need one. At $50/flight, Cape Air is hard to beat. Plus, I get take another trip on a plane? What more could an Airline geek want?
Why is it only $50? Well, service from Saint Louis to Cape Girardeau is subsidized under the FAA's Essential Air Service program. Back during the Good old days(tm), if you wanted to fly between Saint Louis and Nashville, you flew on Ozark Air Lines, and you made a stop in Cape or Marion, IL, EAS is a program deigned to keep communities(Marion is also now a EAS airport)like Cape in the airline business. Carriers bid on flying these routes, and the FAA awards the contract based on low bids, community input, and financial stability (Snoopy and his Sopwith Camel probably wouldn't win a bid)
As you can imagine, there are problems with pork-barrel spending and less than sound airlines Cape has had two carriers (Air Illinois and Regions Air) grounded by the FAA due to maintenance issues, and one (Big Sky) went out of business after flying to Cape for a month. Several Aiports in the Program have "normal" airport fairly close , which is counter to the mission of providing service to out of the way places.
And, the EAS program was designed so that, eventually, the subsidy would no longer be needed. Both Cape and Marion have been EAS ever since the program started.
The current airline, Cape(as in cod) Air of Barnstable, Mass, actually does have a history of being able to wean routes off the dole. How do they do this? For starters, they fly small planes. Real small planes. How small? Try the 9 seat Cessna 402. The folks that were on my last flight that Complained that the MD-80 was a “little plane”? The Rental car counter is across from the baggage claim on the lower level in Saint Louis. Most airlines in the EAS business fly 19 seat planes, which means that they have more seats to fill and more fuel to burn. The 402 can be legally operated by a single pilot in good weather, so that cuts the cost even further. By the way Neither 19 seaters or 9 seaters have to have flight attendants.
Cape Air's model is built on increasing the number of frequencies and destinations from their airports with a big serving of Customer Service. Their motto is Make Our Customers Happy And Have A Good Time Doing It or “MOCHA HAGTDoIT” Beats dealing with surly rental car clerks or rude shuttle van drivers and Passengers.
As far as wasting Tax money:EAS does tend to be a scared cow “vote for Sen Smith. he worked hard to preserve airline service to Hooterville International!(yes. it is International. Remember when Mexicana had to divert there 20 years ago? That pilot had such a funny accent and was real mad when Sheriff Jimmy Joe told him he couldn't let his passenger get off the plane” They only way I see to ending this is the Cape Air model.
And then there is the issue of Airlines and Airports. I normally like LA/Ontario International since it quite literally in my back yard, but there are 5 airports(Ontario "ONT", Burbank Bob Hope "BUR", LA International “LAX”, Santa Ana -John Wayne "SNA", and Palm Springs "PSP") with commercial service in a 60 mile radius. Normally, I usually compare Ontario and LAX. The difference is usually only about $60, which is usually not worth the hassle.
It turned out that LAX was about $200 cheaper, which was a little too much to be ignored. Plus American flew there directly. If I flew from Ontario, I would have to stop at Dallas/Fort Worth. so, off to LAX
Why American Airlines? As you can imagine, Cape Air will only fly you to Saint Louis. To make their service even more convenient, They have what is known as a Code share agreement with American. This means I can book my entire trip on American, earn frequent flier miles on my trip to Cape, and most importantly, My checked luggage will make it all the way with out me having to claim it and re-check it. Chances are you have flown on a code share. If you've flown on a regional Jet, You've probably been on a code share. Think “Air Missouri d/b/a Transcontinental and Western Express(a nod to the airline that became Trans World Airlines)”.
American is the only airline that code shares with Cape Air at Saint Louis. The biggest airline at Saint Louis, Southwest, refuses to do code sharing (American is now either #2 or #3 , depending on how you define “biggest”. Delta has more flights, but on smaller planes). I find this somewhat curious, as both Southwest share similar points on their Business models (fly a lot of flights on Smaller planes (yes, a 737 is smaller than a 747.) and have out standing customer service. The big difference is that Southwest only serves major markets, whereas Cape Air Focuses on Rural areas.
I usually do price them all before booking. A site like Kayak.com is nice since it is an aggregator (pulls in data from several website, but then takes you that site to book,so you can enter your loyalty program information). I also compared Airport - I just booked a trip Friday to Fort Wayne, IN (FWA) in April to do more research for my book. It was the opposite (LAX was $200 more than ONT) But you can't look up Southwest fares on Kayak, they're only available via Southwest.com.
And despite their reputation as the "low fare" airline, most of time, the "traditional" airlines are fairly competitive With Southwest. In this case the only difference was the the $25 bag fee (Cape Air doesn't Charge for bags - another plus for them ), That I have never cared for Southwest boarding process:
After Looking at Parking, I began to think maybe I should re-book. I found a hotel (the Hacienda) near LAX that would let you park your car if you stay the night before and the night after, and since I have a 07:00AM departure and a 10:00 arrival, it should come in handy.
So I'll be deserting my "home airport", although since ONT and LAX are both owned by the City Of Los Angeles, maybe I should think of as getting promoted to Major Leagues. or Maybe not, since I'm listening to the Kings lose right now.
BTW, Santa Ana "John Wayne" beat ONT by $20 and one less connection. Considering the traffic: probably not worth it. besides I'll get a free cookie when I get to Fort Wayne: