The day I'm away from the keys all day is when a thread on ROC starts!
ROC is on the rise, Eric, but we have a long way to go. The Big 6 Oligopoly carriers all still practice their unjust high fare/ low volume marketing strategy on most Rochester routes. As they do most medium- and small- size markets where they do not face substantial low-fare competition. Seat volumes on most routes have not risen substantially since the late 1980s. But there are signs of hope.
Only with JetBlue's arrival last August is ROC-NYC anywhere close to the high seat volumes of the low-fare, 1980's People Express era. In 2000, according to the Democrat and Chronicle, we broke even with 1999. Tons of people are driving to Buffalo--but tons of new people are also flying JEtBlue right at ROC. So we don't seem to be losing net passengers to our low-fare blessed neighbor.
US Airways and Continental have not dropped their fares and offered increased seat capacity to compete with JetBlue to New York, Rochester's single biggest destination. Which can be good and bad. Good in that they aren't trying to predatory price and capacity-dump JetBlue out of the market.
The oligopoly carriers want the Justice Dept to approve their yummy merger proposals and so they'll be on their best behavior this year. (Unlike Air Canada, which yesterday hiked fares on three routes out of Halifax, where they were trying to predatory-price low-fare CanJet out of the market. But AC was busted by the media, and backed off).
JetBlue will probably face little real retaliatory action from Big Air until after (and if) the AA-TW and UA-US supermergers are approved. And any possible DL-CO-NW mergers or arrangements to "stay competitive." So JetBlue is safe at ROC for now. 2002 could be rough if merged carriers decide they want to get rid of this uppity upstart who wants to mess with their fat high-fare, low-volume profit margins.
But it's bad also in the sense that they're saying, "Let JetBlue have low-fare pax, we'll just keep charging high fares and keep enough frequent-flyer loyalists to fill the planes." I'd be happier to see a moderate increase in seats by US and CO to New York, and lower but not predatory-undercutting fares. One US Airways source tells me that US can't make money at ROC without "high yields"--meaning fat high-margin fares that keep low fare folks on the ground--so they're not increasing service.
The A320s? Both United and US Airways have enough Airbuses now that they're finally flying them to non-glamour markets like Rochester. Remember that JetBlue flew the *first* scheduled A320's to Rochester. And presto, within five months UA and US are also flying them to our hometown! And CO has changed all its EWR flights from ATR's to ERJ's. The oligopoly carriers are flying more newer, higher quality aircraft to Rochester, and I think JetBlue's arrival helped speed this process.
Regarding Southwest. Their presence in Buffalo is having some effect on our fares to Baltimore and Washington. I just booked a US Airways BWI-ROC flight for $139 and could have had DCA-ROC for $170. (flights in March) The low-fare seats were plentiful even if my date of travel changed. Usually I pay at least $230 with 21-day advance to fly from the DC area to Rochester. So that's more good news.
But US Airways has not replaced the DeHavillands on BWI-BUF and BWI-ROC with Metrojet, as they did at Hartford and Providence after WN arrived there. A US Airways source tells me that any competitive moves have to be cleared through United headquarters nowadays.
Will Southwest come to ROC? Not for a few years at least, I think. They routinely pick new cities with the idea that people in a 150-mile radius will drive there for low fares. Buffalo is perfectly located between Rochester and Toronto--a huge "catchment" area. However, WN is succeeding grandly at Buffalo. And they went to Hartford and Albany which are not far apart (and Albany is smaller than Rochester). I would not be surprised to see Southwest at both ROC and SYR (yes, Max, you'll probably get them too
) within six or seven years.
If AirTran opens a Pittsburgh hub as I think they will, we would stand a good chance of getting them. And American Trans Air is eventually going to want more feed from the east for their Midway hub. County Executive Doyle and Rep. Slaughter should both be agressively courting ATA. Rochester has never had low-fare service to the Midwest and it would probably be hugely successful.
Rochester probably won't get much past 2.5 million pax per year in the near future unless Southwest arrives. But as JetBlue grows its hub network at JFK, I think they will keep adding flights at ROC as Rochesterians make connections with them. So I'd look for 3.0 or 3.2 million pax per year by 2010, unless Southwest arrives and then it could go to 3.8 or even 4.0 million.
All of this presupposes that low fare carriers can survive superconsolidation of Big Air. Many people at the forum are optimistic that low-fare carriers will prosper if the air-scape is reduced to SuperAmerican, SuperUnited, SuperDelta, and Everybody Else. I'm not optimistic but retail small hope. Congress won't just sit by and let a SuperBig 3 destroy low-fare competition altogether; they will approve vigorous predatory-pricing and capacity-dumping prosecution laws for the Department of Justice first.
So keep looking up, Eric...Rochester's future is brightening.