Recent articles in the El Paso Inc. showcase some disturbing problems with the El Paso International Airport (EPIA) and the downturn in passengers. The Inc. cited a 20% downturn in passenger traffic. This begs to find a solution since Woodpecker believes that without a strong and vibrant commercial air port this city is doomed to failure on the growth in businesses coming to El Paso. All of this has happened since the city leadership under then Mayor John Cook dismantled the very effective business community leadership of the Airport Board. That Board no longer exists and it’s a direct correlation, in my opinion, as to why EPIA went from growth to downturn, from almost great to nearly empty. The City of El Paso and the EPIA staff were asleep at the wheel when it was clear that El Paso would lose significant traffic from Southwest Airlines (SWA) as soon as the Wright Amendment would end. It seemed like the EPIA failed miserably at wooing another two or three carrriers or worse seemed to play hardball with SWA on landing fees and other fees associated with keeping flights to and from El Paso.
I was told by sources inside SWA several years back that the EPIA was charging SWA $3,000 landing fees plus other fees associated with that. At the time EPIA had over 60 daily flights from SWA and frankly it was considered EPIA’s prime airline. I’m old enough to remember when SWA began service to and from Dallas for $25 a ticket. Planes were full and getting on one was as easy as going to the airport and buying your ticket. The stewardess were wearing hot pants and it was touted as the LUV airline. Boy has things changed. Now days SWA is the Greyhound Bus of the air, and it is full of every conceivable type of flier not because it’s the cheap airline it claims to be but because it still has the most flights in and out of EPIA. I’ve been told that the airlines in the USA have cut nearly 14,000 flights in the last 18 months, 32 or more of those right here with SWA. No longer can you get a flight out that isn’t jammed packed with kids, dogs, chickens and who knows what. No longer are the flight attendants happy to be there, although I hope that the pilots are. Luggage may or may not get to your destination with you and yet we are still led to believe that SWA is still the best answer to flying.
I noticed a culture change at SWA when co-founder and Chairman of the Board Herb Kelleher resigned and the new bosses changed SWA, and looked only at the bottom line rather than customer service and employee loyalty. They began expanding from a regional to national airline and now are expanding internationally, filling jobs with bodies rather than developing them in SWA culture. With expansion to the northeast came the uptick in late flights, cancellations, delays due to weather or air traffic congestion. Meanwhile the staff at EPIA must not keep up with airline news. First they tried to play hardball with SWA on landing fees, losing because they failed to understand the consequences of the loss of the Wright Amendment; secondly because if they should have known that SWA’s COO had said in 2011 that the new business plan for SWA was longer flights, eliminating short hauls, those flights under an hour or hour and a half in length. Two cities linked to El Paso fell victim to that decision immediately, the loss of direct flights to Albuquerque and to Lubbock. Then they cut even further, eliminating flights to and from Austin; to and from San Diego; to and from Phoenix; and to and from Las Vegas, Houston, San Antonio and beyond. Look at this list and notice something. These are all flights important to the business community and to the travel industry. More importantly the military thinks these flights are important to them. Combine the SWA changes and cuts to those of consolidated airlines like United, American Airlines, and the loss of Frontier to EPIA and the situation goes from bad to worse.
What I can’t understand is that the important direct flights to and from Chicago, Detroit or New York aren’t on the map anymore. Neither are any flights into an out of Mexico. How the hell do you call yourself and International airport without any international flights? Do you justify that by saying you can connect in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston or Austin? When it takes a full day for a businessperson to fly to El Paso from New York or even Kansas City and full day to get back how does the Chamber or City expect to draw them into this desert. Mexico is building more cars than Detroit now and a lot of them in Chihuahua yet we don’t we have a direct flight into there? Also why don’t we offer a direct connection to Detroit, still the car capital of the US?
Meanwhile we are building a new rental car facility, a little later than we should’ve, while New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is helping Santa Teresa get a foothold on commercial traffic into and out that airport. Heed my warnings friends; Gov. Martinez will take away any business from EPIA if she can and don’t think otherwise. She took the trains and opened new international ports of entry, something that was only an El Paso thing just a few years back. I see the day when we are welcomed by the flight crew to Santa Teresa International Airport, the new hub for SWA and to Virgin Atlantic. Wake up EPIA, your days are numbered if you go on with business as usual.