What if you threw a funeral and nobody came? What if you realized that nobody even cared that there was a death? That is exactly what happened when Mesa Airlines recently stopped operations in Columbia.
I was expecting a loud outcry from the citizens of this fair town, but, alas, there was none. No telephone calls or e-mails from outraged citizens, entrepreneurs or corporate executives. No powerful editorials condemning the loss of yet another airline in Columbia appeared in our papers. No outcry from Judy, Jeff, Rob or Chuck representing our interests under the Gray Dome in Jeff City. There was a total lack of response from our federal legislators; Kit, Claire and Kenny seem to have forgotten the citizens of the middle of Middle America. No concern of the transportation isolation of our fair town existed.
The citizens of mid-Missouri just do not care about the loss of airline service in Columbia. They do not seem to care about waiting four to six weeks before we once again see commercial traffic at the Columbia Regional Airport. No one seems to be worried or concerned.
Yet the loss of Mesa Air will directly affect mid-Missouri businesses, like ABC Labs, which made its best attempts to fly locally. ABC Labs told the City Council a few weeks ago that they are a destination for Columbia. ABC appears to have filled almost 10 percent of the seats on “Les Miserable Airlines.” It depended on that small, unpredictable, hassle-filled service to transport people and clients to and from Kansas City.
Even the talks of Northwest Airline’s merger with Delta and the rumored possible loss of Memphis as a hub facility become nothing more than a nuisance, fueling more distrust, annoyance, disappointment as well as our “we really don’t care” attitude.
We have survived in Columbia without reliable air service for so long that we do not mind the drive to the St. Louis or Kansas City non-hub airports. Even at $4.50 a gallon for car fuel, the 300-mile round trip to K.C.’s airport will only cost about $60 in gas and pay for parking, burdening only our wallets. Or we could take Mo-X for a few dollars more. Either way, we know we will arrive on time with our baggage.
One of my aviation buddies is typical of the 400,000 citizens who live in the area bordered by The Lake and Moberly, Fulton and Boonville — mid-Missouri. My friend’s research tells only of doom and gloom for the commuter airline industry. Of the 70 articles he has sent to those on his ever expanding e-mail list in the last year, there are only tales of woe for the airline industry, especially for the Essential Airline Service cities, like Columbia.
Now, the evening news reports are fanning the dead coals. Increases in fares in guise of baggage and other fees is the airline industry’s answer to the ever-increasing cost of fuel — now exceeding $7 a gallon at Memphis International for a business jet. American Airlines is reducing the jets they have in service. This equates to fewer passenger seats available and the demand for those seats will increase. Simple economics says the cost of an airline ticket can only go up.
The good news is the price of automobile fuel is also rising and the proposed $95 Mesaba flight to Memphis no longer seems that bad. Today, the 800 mile round trip drive to Memphis would cost more than $140 in gasoline and 14 hours of driving. I’ll fly.
Both Mesaba and Northwest Airlines have a lot of work to do if they expect passengers to come back to Columbia Regional Airport. It is not a case of “open the doors and they will flock to our reservation counter.” Mid-Missouri’s memories of disappointing flight schedules, missed and cancelled flights, lost luggage and poor customer relations is long and powerful. We are not known as the “Show-Me State” for nothing. Proof will be in the operations and customer service of our newest air carrier.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.