AirTran Airways Puts Brakes on Vegas Trips

The nonstop flights from Akron-Canton Airport, which started Aug. 4, will be suspended May 9.

AirTran Airways is pulling the plug on its gamble with a nonstop flight to Las Vegas from Akron-Canton Airport -- at least for now.

The nonstop flights, which started Aug. 4, will be suspended May 9. Travelers will still be able to fly on AirTran to Las Vegas through the airline's Atlanta hub. Travelers with tickets for flights after May 9 will be offered a rerouted ticket (with no money savings) or a full refund on their tickets.

Even though the Akron nonstop route was popular with travelers -- flights were about 80 percent to 85 percent full, carrying 100 people a day -- the airline was losing money because of high fuel costs, said Tad Hutcheson, vice president of marketing for AirTran. It's also a long flight -- Las Vegas is 1,845 flight miles from Akron.

When the service started, fuel prices were about $45 a barrel. Now they're about $66 a barrel.

``The price of fuel has just gotten out of hand,'' Hutcheson said.

Las Vegas is a leisure market that travelers want cheap fares to reach, Hutcheson said. ``If your fares get too high, people decide they're not going to go,'' he said. ``We don't think we could pass along a fare increase to cover the losses on the route.''

Hutcheson said the airline hopes to reinstate the route if fuel prices drop. ``Maybe we can make it work later on,'' he said.

Hutcheson declined to say how much money the airline is losing on the Vegas route, but he characterized it as ``significant.'' The airline wanted to suspend the route before it pulled down the profitability of Akron's other AirTran destinations, he said.

The airline is pulling its nonstop service to Las Vegas from Flint, Mich., as well as Akron; they are the only cities besides Atlanta that have it.

Reaction to move

Kristie Van Auken, Akron-Canton Airport's marketing director, said airport officials are disappointed the route is being suspended, but they understand the tough industry conditions.

``I'm sure that there's going to be some disappointment out there,'' she said.

Dan Lanser, president of A Plus Travel Adventures in Green, said he books a lot of Las Vegas flights through AirTran.

``I have some clients booked right now who won't be real happy they have to make a connection. High fuel cost is doing that to everything in the travel business,'' said Lanser, who is also president of the Mid America Chapter of the American Society of Travel Agents.

Both Van Auken and Hutcheson stressed that the suspension of the Vegas flights is not an indication of further cuts from the Akron airport.

The other nonstop locations for AirTran from Akron -- Atlanta, Boston, New York, and the Florida cities of Fort Lauderdale (Saturdays only), Fort Myers, Orlando and Tampa -- are all doing well and are safe, Hutcheson said.

He said the door is open for new destinations for Akron, depending on market conditions. AirTran has long said that it would like to offer a nonstop flight from Akron to Washington, D.C., but the landing slots are not available.

``We're very high on Akron,'' Hutcheson said. ``The goal of the airline and the goal of the Akron airport are the same -- we want to offer as much service as possible and also make it worth our while by making a profitable return on our investments.''

Doug Abbey, an aviation consultant and partner of The Velocity Group in Washington, said he sees AirTran's Vegas suspension as an isolated move. ``I don't see this as a harbinger of other developments taking place down the road'' in Akron, he said. ``Vegas I think was a bit of an aberration here.''

Akron to West Coast

Hutcheson said AirTran will continue to grow this year by serving new cities -- such as White Plains, N.Y., and Seattle, two new destinations through Atlanta that were announced recently -- and adding nonstop service to existing service. This week, AirTran announced nonstop service from Indianapolis to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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