Longworth at Large: Airport Name Not the Problem
By: Jim Longworth
A few years ago I was speaking with a travel agent and told her I wanted to fly out of PTI. “What’s PTI?”, she said. On another occasion, I asked a flight attendant if we would make our connection to PTI in time. “What’s PTI?”, she responded. Clearly, a lot of folks don’t know what PTI is or stands for, so it was no surprise that, earlier this year, the local airport authority board voted to drop the name Piedmont Triad International. Board members said that travelers didn’t know what PTI was, and, further, the name was impeding economic development in our area. The problem is that they also voted to replace PTI with CNCIA, aka, Central North Carolina International Airport. In the words of the immortal Gomer Pyle, “What a dumb thing. What a dumb thing to do!”
Public reaction to CNCIA was immediate and harsh. No one liked the new name, and after a few days of public protest, the board relented and tabled the name change until it could solicit more input. Since then, alternate names have come flying in from all corners of the Triad globe, and the consensus seems to be that we should retain the name PTI and move on, or change it to Greensboro International Airport, since, after all, that’s where it is located. Regardless what we call it, the name of our airport isn’t the problem with our airport.
The problem PTI has is too few direct flights to major cities and a lack of major carrier flights in general. In the good old days, you could hop a plane in Greensboro and fly directly to Los Angeles, Vegas, Houston, and other large cities. That’s no longer the case. You want to fly to Los Angeles? Then prepare to change planes in D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, or Charlotte, and that’s if the flight times you want are available. Otherwise, you might be looking at two stops before arriving at your destination. Moreover, connecting flights come with their own separate set of problems, including long layovers, lost luggage, and missed connections due to the airline industry’s horrific record of on-time flights. And so it is ironic that PTI’s board thought that a name change would attract business and business flyers to the Triad, because unless a visiting executive has his or her own jet, then they’ve had to make one or two connections just to get here, and that hassle could lead them to locate in Charlotte or Raleigh rather than Greensboro.
OK so enough with the problems. What are the solutions? In 2007 I wrote a column in which I advocated for PTI to offer passenger rebates and various perks to major air carriers. The campaign would be heavily marketed and tested for one year. One specific idea I had was for PTI to offer rebates or discounts to passengers who fly out of Greensboro instead of Charlotte or Raleigh. I also suggested giving a two for one ticket deal to any passenger who flew from PTI and had to make a connection to his destination. And, I thought PTI should offer financial incentives to the major airlines. After all, Miami Dade airport had just offered a total of $680,000 in landing fee waivers to six major carriers to generate more traffic and increase revenues. Under my plan, the trial year data would show whether or not PTI could generate the kind of passenger traffic that would entice the major airlines to expand their service here. But what did PTI do instead? The board offered Skybus $57 million worth of perks to locate here. Then, one year later Skybus went bankrupt and joined a long line of low-cost carriers to fail at PTI.
If the PTI board can come up with $57 million to lure a fly-by-night airline, they can come up with enough money to offer creative incentives to passengers and major carriers alike. Perhaps the incentives campaign can convince the big boys that Piedmont travelers will fill up their direct flights if given a chance. Perhaps not. But it’s a better gamble than just changing the name of the airport and sprucing up the concourse. I love our airport. I love its convenience to home and the shorter security lines before boarding. I’m just getting tired of flying around my elbow to get to my thumb.