FALLS CREEK – An official from Southern Airways, the passenger airline that serves DuBois Regional Airport, gave a travel update at the Clearfield-Jefferson Counties Regional Airport Authority meeting last week.
“The biggest change in the past 30 days has been the impact of COVID,” said Mark Cestari, Southern chief commercial officer. “We all took a break, expecting the big corporations to return to their offices in DC and Pittsburgh after Labor Day. But as you have probably read and heard, many companies are now betting on it, and they will remain in home office mode until the beginning of the year. “
Cestari said this was bad news for Southern as these are the high-yielding customers willing to pay more to take a day trip rather than renting a hotel room, dinner and all, but found this to be is uncontrollable.
“The good news is that there are more and more of what we call VFR visiting friends and relatives,” said Cestari. “A lot of people choose to work from their second home, be it in the Carolinas or Florida or whatever. What we lose with the classic business traveler, we catch up with VFR. “
Regarding Southern’s new interline agreement with United Airlines, Cestari stated that the transfer of flights from Baltimore Washington Airport (BWI) to Washington Dulles Airport (IAD) on June 28 was “flawless”.
“I was expecting all sorts of hiccups like it happens when you switch from one big hub to another, but it went smoothly,” said Cestari. “We carried out a fly-in for VIPs from your market and all other mid-Atlantic markets on August 4th, which turned out to be a great media event and also a great promotional event for us.”
Cestari said United’s tech team was trimmed from 22 to eight people during COVID, making some of the granular running things take longer than the airline’s employees would have liked or hoped.
“I have to say, my boss, (Southern CEO) Stan Little, has been watching her daily to emphasize the importance of making this as smooth as possible,” said Cestari. “We have held back some of our planned marketing and promotional activities because we can’t put people into a United buy mode and then fail to meet their expectations.
“The good news is that because of COVID, we don’t have any of the DOT guidelines and thresholds that we need to meet,” said Cestari. “We’re still not at pre-pandemic levels, but the clock for the new fiscal year doesn’t start until October 1st. And I am very confident that we will be firing on all cylinders long before October 1st has a lot of marketing money to spend. And I think that this combination of the United hub in Dulles and the low-cost carriers in Pittsburgh will be a really profitable combination that will allow us to set records at DuBois. “
Authority member Scott North, who is also Jefferson County Commissioner, said he believes DuBois Regional Airport is in a “really good position.” I look forward to completing 2021 and reaching tough 2022. “
“Absolutely,” said manager Bob Shaffer. “We still have these free parking spaces here at the airport … our newly renovated terminal building and are trying to do our best to bring the COVID situation we are suffering from under control.”
Agency chairman Jay Chamberlin said he believed the Washington Dulles transfer would be a positive move.
“There are a lot more options from Washington Dulles, there are more international flights, more direct flights,” Chamberlin said. “In the agreement with the airlines, the passenger’s luggage can go straight through, so a lot of good happens.”
Shaffer pointed out that when travelers purchase a ticket through the airline, it is important to use iflysouthern.com or united.com as soon as it becomes available as ifly can help them with any issues with their travel.
“They can help you … call the reservation number and I know we had officials who came back and said, ‘Wow, these people were exceptional,'” Shaffer said. “And the other benefit of flying on a single ticket is that you can be sure that your luggage is being transferred. If you buy a DuBois to Dulles or DuBois to Pittsburgh ticket and then buy tickets separately, you are responsible for your luggage. There is no magic to do that. So that’s another benefit of pre-planning and buying a ticket through iflysouthern.com. “