People care about their airport, probably more than most other public buildings.
The airport is the first impression for many visitors, including our family and friends.
We want it to make a statement on our behalf, in the way more attention is paid to the front door than the one in the back with the smudged window and loose hinge.
So when even a minor bit of bad news comes out about YLW, it draws a lot of attention.
After over two years of breaking monthly passenger records, numbers were down a half per cent for the first quarter of this year. (April figures will be out today (June 11) or tomorrow).
YLW has been, is, and will continue to be Canada’s 11th busiest airport so our record-setting isn’t really the big deal it’s usually trumpeted to be, however, a decline, even a small one, just isn’t supposed to happen.
Some reports blamed the weak loonie, although it’s doubtful that had anything to do with it. The currency-driven flow of visitors works both ways between the U.S. and Canada: Right now fewer people are heading south and, logically at least, more Americans are coming here where their money goes further.
The main reason may be the tanking of oil prices that has seen fewer commuters and charter flights between Kelowna and Alberta.
If it’s only a trickle down here, it’s been a tsunami at Fort McMurray airport.
In April, passenger traffic in Fort Mac went down 15.1 per cent; charters plummeted almost 40 per cent.
This happened less than a year after the Fort Mac airport was expanded fivefold in anticipation of continuing aggressive growth in the tar sands.
YLW spokesperson Jenelle Hynes says the airport doesn’t take such a blue sky view, although it’s just announced a $55.6 million expansion.
“All of our expansion is to accommodate what’s needed for today,” she said. “We’re not going to build with just hopes....”
The other recent hitch was United cancelling its Kelowna-San Francisco route after only six months, which was a replacement for dumping its LA connection.
Can United spell “business plan?”
The LA route was doing very well so why cancel it in favour of a route that was bound to underperform?
United cancelled other Canadian connections at the same time although no details of the thinking are being made public.
United’s Jennifer Dohm is what they call a spokesperson.
She doesn’t speak at all. I’m used to “no comment” but Dohm is the only flack I can recall who emailed to say she wasn’t going to even listen to my questions.
As a reporter, I learned after many years of calls from readers that a brain is not necessary for a conspiracy theory.
So here’s my conspiracy theory: These cancellations are a backroom deal with Air Canada to manipulate competition.
United and Air Canada are already semi-partners. The two airlines struck a deal in 2010 to co-ordinate scheduling, sales and pricing on trans-border routes.
"This is a very big step for us to solidify our position on trans-border," Air Canada commercial officer Ben Smith said at the time. "It's going to bring some enhanced revenue-generating opportunities for us."
The relationship between the two airlines was investigated by Canada’s Competition Bureau.
In 2012, the bureau reached an agreement with Air Canada and United that the bureau said will protect consumers and preserve competition on routes between Canada and the United States.
But what about the latest manoeuvres?
The bureau won’t release any information about ongoing investigations or even if there is one.
I feel like Rodney Dangerfield. Can’t get no respect.
But you just wait. I’m on to something, although that’s what they all say.
Briefly now, two of my criticisms (and the only ones) about YLW were addressed by Hynes.
— There is that nice restaurant with big windows as you walk in but such facilities in most airports are placed in the departure area because no one has an appetite until they get through the anxiety of security screening. That’s Job One after check-in.
I can’t imagine anyone using the YLW restaurant, even if it does have a lot of light with an expansive view of the short term parking lot.
Says Hynes: Actually, they do. People (from the community at large) come in and have lunch or dinner. The airport community will also have a bite there. It’s doing very well.”
Okay, I take it back.
— The YLW departure area is a place where the sun don’t shine and you can’t even see what’s going on with the planes.
Hynes: “The way the bridges are, that took away the sight lines. When we do the improvements, we’ll be putting in big screens showing the runway and the views. There will be a wall of big screens rotating with what going on (outside) and even the flight paths so people can see what airplanes are coming in. It will be very visual. People love to watch planes.”
The departure area at YLW is built slightly above the ground floor. Airports with a good view of the runways from their departure area are built on the second or third floors.
Can YLW add a second floor?
Of course, says Hynes, but it would be extremely expensive and not financially justified.
The newest expansion will focus on baggage handling and the check-in area but it will also include a new restaurant/bar and other retail improvements to the waiting room.
YLW has started a user survey asking people if they would use direct flights to Europe.
Flights to Europe will happen when senators are boy scouts.
I was going to ask Hynes to justify this public relations fantasy, but she’s the only “spokesperson” speaking to me so I don’t want to make her mad.
— Poulsen can be contacted at email@example.com