United GropeSky West aka “Sky Worst” aka United Airlines has announced it will cease flights to and from the Klamath Falls Airport as of June 2014.

So continues the manic cycle of commercial air service in Klamath. When Horizon Airlines pulled out of Klamath in 2008, local leaders were alarmed and begged United Airlines to fill the void. A lot of people thought Horizon wasn’t the greatest airline and wanted something better. United taunted the community and exploited their position by extorting bribe money (aka subsidies) for the privilege of their expensive services. Jeld Wen, the City, the County and others ponied up $800.000 initially and other untallied funds subsequently worked their way to United. Last year, Klamath Falls and County Tourism received $150,000 from the federal government for marketing the flights. This was essentially free marketing money for United Airlines.

Apparently the local leaders so hell bent on retaining United rarely flew the San Francisco leg they were so concerned in securing. Had they themselves flown to San Francisco and back, they would have understood that no level of marketing could attract and retain travelers who have felt tortured by the San Francisco to Klamath flight experience.

Keep in mind that Skywest is United. The contracts are United, the station at the airport is United, the booking and scheduling is United. Most of what customers complain about is under United’s control. United’s terrible reputation is pervasive. In 2013, United Airlines placed dead last in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, a national review implemented by the University of Michigan. In another study, sponsored by Purdue University in Indiana and by Wichita State, United Airlines also scored dead last.

THE BLIND LEADING THE STUPID

The so-called ‘leaders’ on this issue that are constantly quoted in the region’s only newspaper, the Herald and News, have much to say about the air service. Here are some examples from a Herald article printed April 8, 2014…

“…the marketing campaign, in conjunction with Travel Oregon, could have helped bring down the cost of flights in and out of Klamath Falls, through helping boost the numbers in passenger seats.” – Chip Massie, Klamath Chamber of Commerce Director

Klamath.net RESPONSE: Since 2008, United routinely overbooked flights to and from Klamath and they never reduced ticket prices for higher volume periods. Prices on one-way tickets fluctuated from $214 to over $500 depending on when the flight is booked. Shouldn’t someone running the Chamber of Commerce would understand how monopolies operate?

“The thing that we don’t know from this point forward is, how many companies will look at Klamath Falls and decide not to come here because we don’t have commercial air service?” Chip Massie

Klamath.net RESPONSE: Since Klamath didn’t see any new job creating businesses since 2008 when United took over, the answer to this question is NONE. Nobody cares whether there is no air service or totally shitty air service.

“Klamath Falls has always been “resilient” in the face of obstacles, and sees an opportunity for an airline to benefit locating here. “There is business in Klamath Falls out of this airport — we just need to find the right (air) carrier that can do it.” – Jim Chadderdon, Klamath Tourism

Klamath.net RESPONSE: Is it really such a mystery why Oregon’s second largest airport is void of interest from a commercial carrier? If only the right carrier knew about us? You really think the problem is that Klamath needs to “find” a carrier? Carriers have all the information they need to make decisions about what airports they serve. Perhaps there is a larger set of problems with Klamath that some people (like Chadderdon who sucks money out of the taxpayers for marketing) are oblivious to.

First, we just learned that a substandard carrier doesn’t have any positive impact on the business climate. If the service is so bad (as was United’s) that people actually save time and find traveling by car more reliable and convenient, they certainly won’t be flying. But this isn’t the main reason for limited air service options for rural airports. The writing was on the wall. According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, 2005…

“Higher fuel prices have hurt the economics of operating smaller, 37-50 seat regional jets, and carriers have responded by cutting flights operated by these aircraft at many small community airports. Some carriers are attempting to remove these aircraft from their fleets entirely, replacing them with larger, 51-76 seat regional jets, often at reduced frequencies. The lack of a properly-sized, economically viable aircraft to serve smaller communities has also limited the potential for pro table air service from these airports.”

Klamath has had several airport directors over the past decade and the impetus to phase out smaller aircraft that would serve smaller airports was common knowledge in aviation circles. Horizon, United and Sky West all knew this and United decided it would be worthwhile to ask the simple-minded Klamath folk for a subsidy on the way out. The customer experience with United has been like paying for lodging in what you think is a hotel, but find yourself locked in a jail cell on the tarmac instead.

“Customers are treated so badly by United…” Sandy McGilvary said while waiting for her flight to Klamath Falls in the San Francisco Airport, “its like they could care less if we keep buying tickets or not. They treat [the rural Oregon flights] terrible, the flights are almost always delayed several times, there are confusing gate changes, and they schedule the only flights at times nobody wants to fly.”

We previously reported how United changed their schedule from convenient twice per day flights, removing the daytime schedule and leaving one flight each direction. Leaving Klamath required getting up at 3:30 in the morning. Flying to Klamath meant you wouldn’t arrive until after midnight usually, when you would be forced to use a taxi because no friends or workers would be available to pick you up.

How else does an airline make more money from an airport it doesn’t intend to serve long-term? Charge for priority seating, charge for baggage, make mistakes on the schedule so the customer has to pay a $70 fee for any schedule alteration in response to delays, gate changes, etc. Gates are changed so many times in San Francisco, many customers become lost and lose their seats. If patrons are late or unable to discern the correct gate locations that are not updated at airport kiosks, United sells the seats to people on standby. People were on standby because the flights were overbooked in the first place. Sadly for the consumer, United doesn’t refund tickets such such cases, placing the blame on the flyer for not being in the right place when United failed to provide timely or accurate terminal updates. United is operating a con artist’s dream scenario–taking subsidies for service, then corrupting their own systems to extract more money from customers–shutting down services completely as resentment peaks, fully dodging regulatory and political scrutiny.

THE REAL PROBLEM

These insider industry manipulations sneak through federal policy loopholes, ham-handed regulation or the lack of any oversight.  The real problem, however, is that a town like Klamath Falls is too small to secure competition. It is too small because that’s the way some people want it. The rest are so pathetically incompetent, they can’t leverage any real improvement, which degrades the visitor perception so dramatically that no positive and creative change can occur.

Case in point: In 2013, at the urging of Chadderdon’s Klamath Tourism, the name of the Klamath Falls Airport was officially changed to Crater Lake Klamath Regional Airport.

This is the real reason more businesses don’t locate in Klamath: a parade of one stupid idea after another, none of which actually improve the business climate. This name change is an obvious attempt at using the brand image of Crater Lake to improve the negative brand image of Klamath. This assumes far too much about how much awareness of Crater Lake exists in the minds of outsiders. Most people in San Francisco don’t know about it. Those that are aware aren’t so stupid they can’t figure out the best way to travel to Crater Lake…as if changing the name of the airport to include it would help in that regard. It won’t. It doesn’t. It didn’t.

One private pilot who sold his plane a few years ago noted it was cheaper to keep a plane in airports closer to Portland, like Salem than it was in Klamath. “The airport fees are higher than other airports, the services are less, and the City codes make building your own hangar out of the question. In the end, you can’t ever own the land a hangar is on and why would anyone pay to build something on land they are forever required to pay the City rent for?”

In the end, the air service problem is the same as most economic barriers in Klamath. A huge systemic problem that begins with the good old boys in charge and the myopic and counterproductive policies of government.