I’ve been super busy, so here is a short post with some recent transportation news I didn’t post about:
If you read this blog, you’ve probably heard the news that Fresno Air Terminal (FAT) will be expanded in the next couple of years, and they’re calling it FATforward because why not. This will be the first customer-facing expansion since 2006, when the international arrivals area was built. Since then, there have been some changes on the air side, but nothing major. Of course, the biggest expansion in FAT history was in 2002, when the second-level concourse was built with jet bridges (title picture).
The expansion has two components: terminal expansion, and parking expansion. Let’s talk about parking first!
While not the focus of this blog, I’ve talked a few times about air service from Fresno Air Terminal (FAT). A couple of years ago, I compared air service in Fresno to a group of peer cities, which confirmed that Fresno is under-served.
One big question has been: what destination is missing from Fresno? United answered that question in part last year by adding trial service to Chicago on an Embraer 175 operated by Skywest. This route was somewhat noticeable because it became one of the longest flights in the US operated by a small regional jet. Well, the test proved successful, and United will again operate flights to Chicago in 2019, but this time with a full-sized plane (A319). However, service will still be summer-only. In 2017, United also increased their service to Fresno by upgrading San Francisco to a mainline jet.
In comparison, Boise (metro population of 709,845, less than Fresno’s 972,297) has low cost flights to 15 different cities through Southwest, Allegiant, and Frontier. A couple of years ago, I looked at some peer cities and found this:
There have been some changes since, but nothing too drastic. Frontier came back to Fresno, for example, and Reno gained an additional Jetblue destination.
Personally, I’d love for Jetblue to add Fresno, but it seems incredibly doubtful. I was hoping that they would buy new planes and shift their older Embraer 190s to smaller markets like Fresno. Instead, they simply committed to replace their existing Embraer fleet with a larger Bombardier model and retire the older planes. That makes Fresno even less likely in their future, since each flight has more seats to fill.
The airline said it hasn’t yet decided how many seats it will put on the A220-300, which can hold as many as 160 passengers. It also has the right to convert some orders to the smaller A220-100 plane, which can take as many as 135 seats. The Embraer E190s being replaced carry 100.
However, there may be some hope.
The guy who created Jetblue – and other airlines around the world such as WestJet in Canada and Azul in Brazil – is back to start a brand new airline. Unlike Jetblue, which began by focusing on major airports like JFK, Boston, and Fort Lauderdale, this new airlines is aiming for undeserved airports. This isn’t just an idea, he’s already signed up to buy 60 brand new airplanes.
David Neeleman is raising funds to launch a new low-cost airline, called Moxy, Airline Weekly reports. Moxy could launch as soon as 2020, as soon it takes delivery of its first aircraft.
Moxy has big plans for thinking small. The airline will use Bombardier CS5300 aircraft to shuttle passengers between smaller airports, like Providence, Rhode Island; Hollywood Burbank Airport in Los Angeles; and Chicago’s Gary International Airport.
Moxy has placed an order for 60 Bombardier CS5300 aircraft, according to Bloomberg. Capable of carrying 130 passengers, the lightweight carbon fiber plane was designed to service smaller airports. It offers “over 15% cash operating cost advantage, over 20% fuel burn advantage, exceptional operational flexibility, widebody comfort and an unmatched environmental and noise footprint,” according to the manufacturer.
Travel and Leisure
United Airlines in 2018 continues its domestic routes expansion, as the airline opened reservation for a total of 12 routes in 2018. Following routes opened for booking since Friday night (Pacific Time) 17NOV17.
Chicago O’Hare – El Paso eff 09APR18 2 daily Embraer E170 (Republic Airlines)
Chicago O’Hare – Fresno eff 07JUN18 1 daily Embraer E175 (Skywest)
Denver – Jacksonville FL eff 09APR18 1 daily Embraer E175 (Skywest)
Denver – Liberal eff 06FEB18 6 weekly CRJ200 (Skywest)
Denver – North Platte eff 01FEB18 2 daily CRJ200 (Skywest; weekends frequency varies)
Denver – Pueblo – Liberal eff 06FEB18 6 weekly CRJ200 (Skywest)
Denver – Scottsbluff eff 30JAN18 2 daily CRJ200 by Skywest (weekends frequency varies)
Los Angeles – Kalispell eff 07JUN18 1 daily CRJ200 (Skywest)
Los Angeles – Medford eff 09APR18 2 daily CRJ200 (Skywest)
Los Angeles – Missoula eff 07JUN18 1 daily CRJ200 (Skywest)
Los Angeles – Redmond eff 09APR18 1 daily CRJ200 (Skywest)
Newark – Elmira eff 09APR18 2 daily ERJ145 (Commutair)
|Passengers boarding a flight in Fresno|
About a year ago, I took a look at air service available from Fresno Air Terminal (FAT). In that post, the news wasn’t good. Fresno had lost service to Las Vegas by US Airways and United, leaving only Allegiant. Allegiant dropped Honolulu, but added Mesa (Pheonix), which they apparently are no longer selling tickets for (as of last week!). Frontier left, again. Bakersfield lost Houston, and Visalia lost all service. The switch away from propeller airplanes meant Fresno got larger planes – but less frequency.=&0=&
Yet here we are in 2016, and the only innovative or low-cost airline to serve Fresno is Allegiant Air, an airline that surprisingly was founded and headquartered in Fresno before leaving for Vegas. At one point, they offered service from Fresno to Reno, Portland, Lake Tahoe, and Long Beach. They served Hawaii from Fresno in 2012, but mostly abandoned that market in 2014. Today, from Fresno, they only serve Las Vegas and Mesa, Arizona (new for this year).
The other low cost airline to serve Fresno, Frontier, left in January of 2015. They also stopped serving Bakersfield. They flew to Denver from both markets.
Indeed, Bakersfield and Visalia have also lost service. The long-standing Bakersfield-Houston flight, established by Continental, ended earlier this year (which prompted this post). Visalia now has no air service at all, after being an Essential Air Market with flights to LAX or Burbank. Last year, you could have flown from Visalia to San Diego via a quick stop in LAX for $69. Today, you’d have to own your own plane.
Of note, Merced still has air service. After losing Great Lakes (the same airline that served Visalia) they found a replacement in “Boutique Air” which serves LAX and Oakland, also for $69. However, the turnover for these tiny airlines is very quick. Visalia quit the commercial game because they went through 3 providers in 3 years and it was no longer worth the hassle. Merced might be next.
The legacy airline that have served the Valley continue to do so, but with less options. A big reason is because they’ve abandoned propeller aircraft, which are cheaper to operate. Instead, they now all use small jets. Sure, they’re larger, faster, and quieter, but the change has meant United no longer serves Las Vegas from Fresno and they only operate two flights a day to LAX.
Twice a day to LAX, is quite frankly, crazy.
Fresno does have two airlines serving Guadalajara, but the rumored service to Mexico City only emerged as a Christmas charter flight.
All these changes have made flying to and from Fresno harder than ever. Already an expensive airport, less options has meant higher prices, and more trouble when delays cause a connection to be missed. Everyone who flies into Fresno frequently has experience with either being forced to spend a night elsewhere or renting a car from LAX or SFO to actually arrive. While fog can be to blame in the winter (or when going to SFO), most of the time it’s because the plane scheduled for Fresno is diverted to serve another scheduled flight, leaving Fresno travelers high and dry.
Only Alaska has grown in Fresno, such as by offering service to San Diego. They’ve also recently purchased Virgin America, and taken big steps to increase their West Coast presence. If any airline is to add service to Fresno in the next few years, it would almost certainly be them.
This LA Times article from Sunday talks about Alaska’s expansion. What I found interesting is how they call Southwest “California’s airline” because apparently they carry more California passengers than anybody else. Not to Fresno though.
What is especially disappointing is that Southwest and Jetblue have continued to expand into smaller and smaller markets, but not Fresno.
In fact, let’s take a look at our peer cities to see how Fresno compares. I chose cities similar in size to Fresno (by metropolitan area), and similar in importance. I ignored all of Florida because you can’t walk 5 feet without coming across an international airport served by 200 airlines (aka, the tourism factor). Basically, average cities that are a good distance from the nearest major metropolitan area. I also looked at Burlington, Vermont, as it gets Jetblue flights, although it is many times smaller.
Ranked by the population of the metropolitan area, (ie, the flying public), Fresno ranks 3rd from this selection of cities.
However, ranked by airline service, Fresno comes out looking pretty bad:
Dead last in destinations served. Only Knoxville also lacks service by Southwest and Jetblue, but they get twice the number of destinations from less airlines. In regards to airlines, I combined entities such as “American Eagle” with “American Airlines” and I went by brand, rather than actual airline (Skywest does most flights, but nobody buys a Skywest ticket). I included Burlington as an example of a very small metro area with Jetblue service….and awkwardly, more destination options than Fresno, even with a metro area more than twice as small.
Unsurprisingly, the lack of service has resulted in a much smaller number of passengers than these other cities. And that’s where you get a chicken and egg problem.
Airlines don’t serve Fresno because few people fly. Few people fly because prices are expensive, destinations are limited, and service is unreliable.
Sure, people can and do drive to LAX and SFO. But that’s a waste of a day. The 4 hour drive usually means 5 because you have to plan for traffic or delays. And since those airports are bigger, you have to arrive 2 hours early for TSA troubles. So half the day, just to make the flight.
One day, High Speed Rail will solve this problem. But for the next 6 years, Fresno finds itself stuck in the same situation. Limited flights, high prices, and a poor position compared to peer cities. I’m no longer expecting new destinations or airlines, but who knows, maybe Alaska might surprise.