FAQ About the New 3 Flight Schedule
Many people have commented and asked questions about the new schedule that will see Paducah getting 3 daily weekday flights to Chicago beginning in January. We wanted to take the opportunity to give some answers to those questions, and explain why this is a great and unique opportunity for everyone that flies in to and out of Paducah.
Some of the answers are complex, so for this blog we have tried to simplify things as much as possible.
How did this new "schedule change" come to happen?
In a nutshell, SkyWest was looking to improve operational efficiencies, and asked us if we would be interested in adding Cape Girardeau to our existing schedule. For Cape Girardeau this would mean switching Quincy for Paducah, and Quincy's service would stand alone (we explain this more below). While we in Paducah evaluated what this change would mean for us, we saw an opportunity that would 1) improve Skywest's efficiency beyond what they had projected themselves, and provide a number of additional benefits for both cities including giving both Paducah and Cape Girardeau, three round trip flights to Chicago on weekdays. What are the additional benefits you ask:
1) Two morning departures that give passengers 2 chances to get to Chicago by 2:00pm, in time for mid to late afternoon connections from Chicago. Which will help in instances of missed, delayed, or canceled early morning flights. It will also potentially shorten layover lengths at O'Hare.
2) The new schedule will improve the "travel logistics" especially for business travelers many of whom have said to us that they would prefer to fly out of Paducah but the schedule doesn't fit what they need. Even the later departure on Sunday, will give people a chance to spend most of the day at home, then get where they need to go, especially if its Chicago, Sunday night for those Monday meetings.
3) In cases of weather issues in Paducah or Cape, the flight can divert to either city, and its close enough people can still drive/get a ride home. Or take a delay and get home a little later. If the flight is supposed to go to Paducah, but storms or fog prevents that, then the plane diverts to Cape until the storms pass, then comes to Paducah, or vice versa. If the plane can't continue on, then again, passengers are only an hour away, and not stranded in Chicago,or Quincy.
4) The opportunity to go to Chicago for day trip for work or for play, and come back the same day, or vice versa.
5) For those travelers just going to Chicago, they will be able to work almost a full day before coming to the airport in time to catch the 5:30pm flight, (we strongly suggest you arrive at Barkley by 4:30.) This change alone will increase productivity, and reduce the time out of the office needed for travel to other airports.
We then made our case to SkyWest, and they evaluated our proposal, supported it and took it to United who also approved it. Then it was just a matter of getting the Department of Transportation to sign off on the schedule change, which we think was easy since SkyWest wasn't asking for any changes to their subsidy, which is already the 8th lowest of all cities that benefit from the EAS program.
So when you consider that at the end of the day, that "big" SkyWest and "bigger" United, listened to and supported a proposal that came from two small cities, this is a very big deal. Of the 100+ communities in the EAS program, you can count on one hand the number of cities that get 3 flights a day.
In case you were wondering, in order for us to get a third flight on our own, we would have had to increase our passenger count by another 20% annually, before SkyWest would even consider a third stand-alone flight. So for this to happen now, this way, is truly a tremendous opportunity for both Paducah and Cape Girardeau.
Why Cape Girardeau?
The short answer is that it is the closest city that SkyWest/United provides service, and our proximity to Cape created the opportunity for SkyWest to improve efficiency as stated above. This became a viable change last December when Skywest/United began service to Chicago, two flights a daily M-F and one each on Saturday and Sunday. Prior to last year, CGI had subsidized service on Cape Air, who operated 8-seat turboprops between Cape Girardeau and St. Louis. But last year, SkyWest bid CGI-ORD and was awarded the Essential Air Service, (EAS) contract and began the CGI-ORD service Dec 1.
Unlike our non-stop service to/from Chicago, Cape Girardeau has one non-stop between CGI and ORD, while the other flight stops in Quincy, Illinois, between Cape Girardeau and Chicago. So in SkyWest's view, subbing Paducah for Quincy made good sense. So geography alone made Paducah a much more attractive and economical option for SkyWest. And it is also the only way 3 third flight option was even remotely viable.
Why not Nashville, or Any Other larger City?
Again it goes back to existing service and gate availability. SkyWest has very few, if any gates at Nashville, nor do they have subsidized flights to BNA under the United Airlines banner. Furthermore, they do not have any service at any other airport close to Paducah, except Cape Girardeau. Since we are limited to the cities that SkyWest/United serves, that drastically cuts our options. There is also the fact that for any change to work, it has to fit within the rules that govern our Essential Air Service subsidy. For a better understanding about how this subsidy works and why it is important for you and us, you can read our blog post on this topic.
About Service to Nashville in General....
While we never say it won't ever happen, we can say that it won't happen in the near future. It comes down to available options, agreements, and economics. As far as options, there aren't too many airlines out there. And it is safe to say that none of the 3 major carriers (United, Delta, American) would be interested in providing service between Paducah and Nashville, subsidized or not. For starters the fact that none of them are hubbed there is key given the fact that airlines today are only interested in feeding their hub airports.
Looking beyond the "Big 3", there are only a handful of other airlines that could provide the service. For the most part, they utilize 8-30 seat aircaft, with the majority being turboprop driven. But beyond the size of the plane there is another issue to factor in as well. You see, only a couple of these smaller airlines have baggage agreements with the major carriers. (And Southwest doesn't have any agreements with any other airline, currently.) So this means if you are connecting out of Nashville, you will have to check your bag, and go through security at Paducah, then retrieve your bag at Nashville from baggage claim, go and check-in/ check your bag again for your connecting flight, and go through security at Nashville, before you board your connecting flight there. We can all agree that this would be a very inconvenient no matter the fare price.
In fact, in 2016, Bowling Green had service with one of these smaller airlines to Atlanta. That airline did not have any such baggage agreement with any airline, and the service ended due to lack of use after only 4 months. The main reason cited was that re-checking bags at ATL was dubbed too much of a hassle for the service to be convenient.
As for the economic component specifically:
The best example is we can give you is this one . A couple years ago, we asked a 9-seat operator with gate access in St. Louis, what fares would look like for seasonal (March-October) service between Paducah and St. Louis. They told us for it to be economically viable they would have to charge $200 a seat just to cover their operating expenses. Now we know that you can drive to and from St. Louis much cheaper than that, And even though the flight would likely only be an hour long, that's still a high price to pay. So when you consider that a Paducah to Nashville flight would likely be 45 minutes, service would likely be at a price point that far exceeds the convenience factor, especially when you have to go through all the extra steps to connect to another city. These are the main reasons that service between Paducah and Nashville is for all intents and purposes, unlikely, unless something changes drastically.
We hope this helps answer your questions, and we hope you are as excited as we are about this new schedule and the growth that will hopefully come with it. And we hope to see more of you realizing what many have come to know that we are the easiest, fastest, and most convenient way to get you where you're going and then back home. But rest assured, we are not stopping now and resting on our laurels though. We will continue to explore any viable avenues that we think could further grow air service opportunities in Paducah. If nothing else, this new schedule shows just how hard we work for you, and how we want to see your airport continue to grow.
See you the next time and every time that you Fly out of the ORDinary, and fly Barkley.