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A Publication of WTVP

If you want to start a (sometimes angry) discussion, bring up the Peoria airport. There's nothing that compares with a frustrated traveler. And why not? Most people travel for two reasons-business or pleasure. If it's business, there are likely scheduled appointments at the destination, and a delay might mean missed meetings and opportunities. One economist has suggested that flight delays/cancellations costs Chicago companies as much as $12 million daily! As for pleasure, most people travel because they have a narrow window of vacation opportunity…and usually have reservations at the destination. A delayed or missed flight can have serious implications. So the frustration is more than understandable.

Introduce an airline industry that is apparently so caught up in its own problems that it has lost sight of the fact that its members should be in business to serve the customer. That's right-the customer. You and me. Add to that the long deregulated industry's labor problems and even larger scheduling problems and that's just the beginning of the challenges.

Peoria has provided us with an excellent example of how the industry has gone awry. Left to their own devices, the airlines that serve the Peoria airport charged fares that made it more expensive to fly-when and if they flew-to Chicago or St. Louis as to the East Coast, while the same destinations from Bloomington were far less. A first grader could see that made no sense. And like most of you, we've complained long and hard about it. But it took a concerted effort by Congressman Ray LaHood, State Representative David Leitch, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Peoria Airport Authority to get airline officials to sit down to talk about the exorbitant fares. The results of those meetings-ticket prices on American Airlines from Peoria were reduced by an average of 34%, sometimes as much as 70%; TWA/TWE ticket prices were reduced by an average of 54.2% to 75%. Negotiations continue with another major airline to establish regular routes to Dallas.

There's more. For instance, parking fees in Peoria vs. free parking in Bloomington. We applaud the Greater Peoria Airport Authority for its recent action to create free parking. For many, parking fees were like putting salt on a wound. Nonetheless, it couldn't have been that much of an issue. If it were, why would so many people spend money on gas and parking to drive to Chicago and St. Louis? Those numbers are projected to be high, and it was essential to launch a full-scale public relations campaign to get them back.

A more serious situation, we think, has been the increased air traffic control problems and congestion that has resulted in the growing number of cancelled or delayed flights around the world. On the East Coast, for example, Business Week reports a surge in limousine and taxi traffic between New York and Boston–primarily by frustrated air passengers. That won't change unless:

1. The federal government in part re-regulates the airline industry. We absolutely dread an action like this, but consider how well the airlines were running before deregulation. There were more flights from airports like Peoria. Rates were steadier. And it seemed like the flights were on time. We realize, though, that things have changed considerably since deregulation. For one thing, many more of us are flying now. And that might be causing the problem, and leads us to suggestion number two.

2. Reduce the number of people flying. We obviously can't tell some people that they're no longer allowed to fly-but we can present some attractive alternatives. Like high-speed rail connections between major cities. Train travel has always been very functional in Europe, more than likely because rates are affordable and the trains move very quickly. When we were in Europe earlier this summer, we took a high speed train from Paris to Nice, France, finding it both affordable and punctual (contrast that with our flight out of Nice was delayed for several days, costing a lot of time and money.)

These suggestions may be fraught with trouble-for instance, it would be tough (and expensive) to put high-speed trains in America. Secondly, even if we did, we're not a "train" culture.

But the airline problems are not going to go away. We realize we've gone way over the line with our proposals, and would actually prefer the current system worked without more government involvement (using our tax dollars). We hope we've missed something doable and practical, and someone else will save the day. Or else airlines may find that price gouging and deteriorating service will be their downfall.

Closer to home, we now have most of what we've all been yelling for. Now simply, it's our turn. American humorist Will Rogers once said, "Even if you are on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." We have to "use it or lose it." I've heard the message loud and clear from Congressman LaHood, Rep. Dave Leitch, Mayor Grieves, the Chamber of Commerce, and Airport Director Fred. We suggest as part of the public relations campaign, a large public score card be kept on display reporting the passenger count, service, fares and reliability of each flight departing and arriving at the Greater Peoria Regional Airport, holding us all accountable-and hopefully proud. IBI

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