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Kari Lucin, Forum News Service, Published January 31 2013

Great Lakes Aviation officials visit Jamestown

JAMESTOWN, N.D. – Great Lakes Aviation continues working to improve the pricing and reliability of commercial air service to Jamestown Regional Airport, company officials said Thursday.

Two top officials from the Cheyenne, Wyo.-based company visited Jamestown on Wednesday and Thursday to network with community members and speak with the media. Great Lakes receives a federal Essential Air Service subsidy to provide commercial air service to Jamestown Regional Airport.

“We’ll be constantly monitoring price and schedule” at Jamestown, said Charles R. Howell IV, CEO of Great Lakes.

In addition, a solution to a problem involving Delta Air Lines’ SkyMiles program is in the works, and should be implemented in March, Howell said.

Great Lakes experienced a rocky start in Jamestown when it took over air service from Delta Air Lines on March 19, 2012. At that time, the company took contracts for seven new communities to its new hub in Minneapolis.

Reliability and pricing quickly became major concerns, as flights were frequently late or cancelled and prices on flights through Minneapolis to other destinations from Jamestown were frequently far costlier than comparable flights from Bismarck and Fargo.

The pricing issue was partly caused by a computer error in Delta’s system.

“Delta’s system wasn’t picking up our lowest fares,” explained Monica Taylor-Lee, director of public relations for the company. “They rectified that.”

The Jamestown Regional Airport Authority also pressured Delta to get fares listed on delta.com down to a rate comparable to flights from other area airports.

“That’s a Delta issue, and unfortunately, not something we’re able to control,” Taylor-Lee said.

Prices on Great Lakes flights from Jamestown to Minneapolis remained consistent – about $180-$200 for a round trip, which the JRAA considers low.

“We like to say we can get you to Minneapolis for less than the price of a speeding ticket,” Howell said with a smile.

While the JRAA worked with Delta to fix the pricing issue, Great Lakes altered its schedules and reallocated its existing resources in an attempt to increase timeliness and reliability.

“So far it’s working well, and we continue to fine tune it,” Howell said. “Over the last eight or 10 months, we have reallocated a lot of resources to fit the system.”

Great Lakes also opened a maintenance building in Iowa and beefed up its staffing, Howell said.

Following the transition to Great Lakes, boardings at JRA plummeted from 797 in February to 448 in March, eventually falling below 150.

Lately, boardings have begun to increase again, reaching 300 in December.

Problems and potential

A few problems remain to be fixed, however.

One of the most prominent remaining issues is a problem with SkyMiles, Delta’s frequent flyer loyalty program.

Though customers can use Delta.com to book through flights from Jamestown to other destinations, via Minneapolis, they receive no SkyMiles points for the miles between Jamestown and Minneapolis.

“We’re expecting literally any day an agreement with Delta that would move forward finalizing the SkyMiles agreement,” Howell said Thursday. “We’re still shooting for implementation sometime in March.”

Part of the reason the issue has taken so long to resolve is that Delta changed its reservations platform, putting the issue on hold until the transition was complete, Howell said.

Another potential problem for flyers looms on the horizon, as major airlines have begun divesting themselves of responsibility for some baggage, if people are booked on multiple separate flights.

Traditionally, Howell explained, the airline on the final leg of a trip would be responsible for baggage transitions from one airline to the next. However, several major carriers have already changed their policies, and Delta is preparing to do so at some time in the future.

The shift would not affect people booking through flights on Delta.com or people booking flights from Jamestown to Minneapolis through Great Lakes’ website.

It would, however, affect people booking a flight from Jamestown to Minneapolis, and then booking a separate flight to another destination, Howell said.

Under the new system, those passengers would have to retrieve their luggage in Minneapolis and bring it back to the second airline’s ticket counter to check again.

The change is likely still months away, Howell said, but when it occurs Great Lakes employees will begin asking people at the ticket counter if they have connecting flights and informing them of any changes.

Some people have also had concerns about the size of the airplanes serving Jamestown –19-seat aircraft without bathrooms.

The planes date from the late 1990s, which is still fairly new for commercial airplanes, Taylor-Lee said, and Great Lakes uses them for nearly all its 47 destinations.

“Right now, we feel like it’s the right size airplane for the mission,” Howell said, adding the planes do have more leg room than some larger craft.

Great Lakes is currently trying to increase the amount of traffic to and from the Jamestown airport.

“Our goal is to keep beating the bushes and encouraging people to use the service,” Howell said. “We’re actually here on the ground and have resources to try to promote (air service).”

Jamestown Airport Manager Matt Leitner said he appreciated the company’s efforts, adding that Great Lakes has been very proactive in the community.

“They care,” Leitner said. “We appreciate their presence. We appreciate their willingness to work closely with us. They want to do their utmost.”


Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453 or by email at klucin@jamestownsun.com


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