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No hub, no problem for Will Rogers World Airport

Oklahoma City’s major commercial airport knows it’s not a travel hub—and that’s OK.
by Jennifer Palmer Modified: March 23, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: March 23, 2014

Also, Southwest Airlines in 2013 downgraded the Atlanta hub it acquired after merging with AirTran Airways.

Local travel depends

on hubs

Oklahoma City travelers would be limited if it weren’t for the hub system. More than 20 airports are served nonstop from Will Rogers World Airport, but to travel abroad, or even to much of the West Coast, a connecting flight is essential.

Mike Boyd, an airline analyst for BoydGroup International, said direct service to Boston or Seattle is probably out of reach for Oklahoma City, but through Chicago or Dallas, fliers can get pretty much anywhere.

“A hub system allows places like Oklahoma City to have better connectivity to the world,” he said.

In its consolidation, United is cutting its Cleveland to Oklahoma City connection. No other airline provides direct service to that city.

However, Will Rogers will gain a new nonstop destination when US Airways starts direct service to Charlotte, N.C., this summer.

Kranenburg said the airport fared well through the fuel crisis and economic downturn in 2008.

“We’ve bounced back each time. ... We’re as flush as we’ve ever been in regard to passengers,” he said. The airport logged 1.83 million outbound passengers in 2013.

Airport staff pursues flight connections based on what actually makes sense for the city, not just to add numbers to the board, he added. It’s a competitive market, because airports aren’t just competing against other airports but for limited airline resources.

Asking an airline for a new connection to Oklahoma City is asking them to take a resource out of a city where they are making money and bring it to Oklahoma City — it’s a hard decision and it has to fit into an airline’s intricate network, Kranenburg said.

“Sometimes it takes three or four years to cultivate a route. But our job is to keep it in front of them,” he said.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C., for example, has been on the city’s wish list for years. In 2012 and again in 2013, Oklahoma City was passed over for a proposed route to fill an opening at the busy East Coast airport. But airport officials remain determined to secure that connection eventually.

And though direct flights to Mexico may be on many travelers’ wish lists, pursuing international travel isn’t a high priority for the airport, though it was once offered through a Northwest Airlines subsidiary.

Lacking a customs facility, Will Rogers World Airport can’t accept return travelers from international locales. So if an airline wanted to offer a direct connection to Mexico, it would have to stop in Dallas or Houston on the return trip. The cost, and passenger inconvenience, is not something airlines have been willing to undertake post-9/11, Kranenburg said.

The focus is on domestic service because it is low-hanging fruit, Kranenburg said, but they may down the road look into international possibilities.

by Jennifer Palmer
Investigative Reporter
Jennifer Palmer joined The Oklahoman staff in 2008 and, after five years on the business desk, is now digging deeper through investigative work. She's been recognized with awards in public service reporting and personal column writing. Prior to...
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With a hub strategy, you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. We are not a hub market, so what we have to do is make sure we do everything we can to try and expand our air service on multiple levels.

Cynthia Reid,
vice president of marketing and communications for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber

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