Businesses Concerned About Drop in Boise Airline Service 

Boise lands first-ever air summit

Prior to her new assignment as director of the Boise Airport, Rebecca Hupp served as director of Bangor International Airport in Maine and manager of the Aberdeen Regional Airport in South Dakota.

Laurie Pearman

Prior to her new assignment as director of the Boise Airport, Rebecca Hupp served as director of Bangor International Airport in Maine and manager of the Aberdeen Regional Airport in South Dakota.

"I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse."

"Leave the gun, take the cannoli."

The Godfather--the iconic 1970s gangster saga--is a never-ending source for cliches, quoted by politicians and titans of industry alike for more than a quarter century. But its most recent reference, regarding the airline industry, may be its most unusual to date.

"You have to kiss the airlines' Godfather ring," said Mike Boyd, president of Boyd Group International, an aviation consulting group. "If you show that respect for the airlines, it is more likely to work."

Boyd, considered by many as a plain-speaking travel industry insider, will soon be flying from his home base of Denver to Boise to take center stage at a first-of-its-kind Air Service Summit--scheduled for Tuesday, May 15--a gathering of public and private interests concerned over recent airline departures from the Boise Airport with no scheduled returns.

"[The Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce] has had a number of its business members say they were increasingly concerned about air service," said Bill Connors, president and CEO of the chamber. "They're worried about losing certain routes, and they're worried about the increasing cost of air tickets for the routes that remain."

In the last six months, four airlines have either eliminated routes or taken off from the Boise Airport without immediate plans to return:

• Frontier Airlines, which used to offer twice daily service between Boise and Denver, suspended its service in December 2011, with hopes of resuming in April but instead decided to make the suspension permanent.

• Portland, Ore.-based Seaport Airlines ended its daily flights from Boise to Idaho Falls and Pendleton, Ore., on Jan. 4.

Southwest Airlines ended its direct-service flights from Boise to Reno, Nev., Salt Lake City and Seattle on Jan. 8.

American Eagle ended its twice-daily service from Boise to Los Angeles on Feb. 8.

"Our customers see it and feel it every day," said Cindi Michalski, senior director of business travel sales at Global Travel. "I'm confident that this is the gist of the air summit."

Michalski is correct. The summit is a direct result of recommendations from the Boise chamber's newly commissioned Travel Advisory Board, a select group of Treasure Valley business executives including airlines, hoteliers and travel agencies, as well as a diverse organizations such as Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Bogus Basin and the Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Producers Commission.

"We wanted a variety of perspectives on travel issues," said Connors. "They will all universally tell you that the travel industry doesn't get the respect it probably deserves when it comes to its economic impact."

Connors should know. He was the face and voice of the nation's travel industry before taking the helm of the Boise chamber, serving as executive director of the Global Business Travel Association, the world's largest business travel organization, from 2002-2009. Prior to that post, he was a senior executive for the American Society of Travel Agents and the Travel Institute.

"We often called ourselves the 'Rodney Dangerfield of industries,'" said Connors. "Compared to big oil or big agriculture, we didn't get the same amount of respect."

But Connors heaps plenty of respect on one of his newest colleagues: Rebecca Hupp, director of the Boise Airport, who has been on the job for a little more than one month.

"She's great," said Connors. "And she brings a great national reputation. When I called Mike [Boyd] to try to lure him to our air summit, I told him I couldn't pay him a lot of money, but he said, 'You know what? I'll give you a good deal because you just hired one of the best airport directors in the country.' High praise indeed."

Hupp has her work cut out for her. While Boise isn't alone in seeing some of its airlines curtail or even eliminate certain routes, she wants to be poised for the rare opportunity of being in front of the airline executives to convince them either to return select routes to Boise or possibly introduce new routes. And yes, that may mean "kissing the Godfather ring."

"Oh yes, I know Mike [Boyd], and I've heard that comment. He's very direct," said Hupp. "You can offer an airline $1 million and they'll go through the million in the first four months. All things being equal, they're going to go to the place where they can get that extra incentive."

Michalski knows a thing or two about extra incentives. Before coming to Boise (when her new bosses bought her Sacramento, Calif.-based agency), she teamed up with Sacramento businesses, their local chamber, airport executives and city officials to "kiss the Godfather ring" of Southwest Airlines.

"We had a full-court press," said Michalski. "And that's precisely what needs to happen here in Boise."

Hupp said Michalski is right on-point.

"We have to compete for air service as a community," said Hupp. "And we need to have a very detailed presentation. For example, we're only going to ask them for something that fits into their business model. We're not going to get Delta to fly from Boise to Philadelphia, which is not one of their hub cities. You really need to know the airlines' structure and what makes sense for them. You need to ask for something that fits."

Hupp and her team will have that rare opportunity in face-to-face sessions with 10 of the nation's air carriers at the 2012 Airports Council International Marketing and Communications Conference, slated for June.

"I've been doing this long enough," said Hupp, who had extensive experience at Kansas City, Mo., Aberdeen, S.D.; and Bangor, Maine, airports before coming to Boise. "When I meet with the airlines, it's usually not my first experience or encounter. But these meetings are the beginning of a conversation, not the end."

Hupp laughed when asked which route she would like to see come to Boise sooner than later.

"Can I only have one?" she asked and thought for a moment. "As far as destinations, we know that there's strong demand for service to Dallas and/or Houston. And they're hub destinations. Of course, we'd love to improve eastbound destinations, like Philadelphia or Atlanta."

Before she meets with the nation's air carriers again, Hupp said she hopes to be equipped with some new data from Boise's business community.

"Absolutely. We're going to look at doing some studies on corporate travel to and from Boise," she said.

Hupp will have an audience of willing participants when she, Rogers and Boyd stand before the Boise business community at the inaugural air service summit.

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