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Palmdale’s United Airlines service still gaining altitude

first_imgDespite Smith’s glowing review, the 50-seat jets out of L.A./Palmdale Regional Airport have only been about one-third full since the service launched six months ago. In all, the airport has served about 10,000 passengers. The slow start to the service highlights the continuing challenges for officials trying to regionalize air travel and ease a growing strain on Los Angeles International Airport. United spokesman Jeff Kovick declined to comment specifically about the Palmdale market but noted there’s a “transition period” to inform customers about a new service. “Generally speaking, we are flying where we believe our customers want to go and where we can profitably offer service,” Kovick said. The numbers haven’t discouraged officials with Los Angeles World Airports, the Los Angeles department that owns and operates the Palmdale facility as well as Los Angeles International Airport and airports in Ontario and Van Nuys. “We feel that the new service and new airport is performing within our expectations,” said Paul Haney, LAWA deputy executive director. “Certainly the air service is getting very favorable reviews from travelers. … They are happy because it keeps them off the freeway.” LAWA is forecasting that Palmdale’s passenger traffic will continue to climb and hopes to have 50 percent of the air seats filled by June, Haney said. The goal then will be to have airline operations break even at the 18-month mark, he added. The service debuted June 7 with much fanfare and is supported by a $4.6 million incentive package put together by LAWA, the city of Palmdale and others, with about $2 million for underwriting losses incurred providing the service. The payments to United were mentioned in an Oct. 30 letter to United’s chairman, Glenn Tilton, that discussed keeping Palmdale’s fares competitive with those for flights out of LAX. “I believe it is in our mutual interest that (Palmdale) flights be priced competitively with your LAX service while United is receiving quarterly revenue-guarantee payments,” LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey wrote. Palmdale is seen as playing a key role in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s regional airport strategy to spread Southern California’s air traffic from LAX to other facilities. LAX handles about 61million passengers a year, and Los Angeles city officials have agreed to cap airport traffic at 78million annually even as aviation demand is expected to double in the next 20 to 30 years. For Antelope Valley civic leaders, the reopening of the airport means the fulfillment of a long-held dream to make it a viable air-traffic hub after false starts since the 1990s. Airlines came and went after a short time because of high operating losses. The latest was Nevada-based Scenic, which pulled out in January 2006 after just a year of flights to and from North Las Vegas. United’s current traffic out of Palmdale is a mix of business and leisure travel, with about 40 percent making San Francisco their final destination and about 60 percent going on to other locations, Haney said. Passengers are primarily people who either live or work in the Antelope Valley, Santa Clarita and the surrounding High Desert area, Haney said. “Obviously in the Antelope Valley, there’s a significant government military market, and we are very pleased that we are capturing that market with some discount government fares,” he said. Palmdale’s main draws, including free parking within steps of the terminal, easy check-in and security screening wait times of less than five minutes helped persuade L.A. County social worker Dana Rose to use the airport for the first time last week to go to San Francisco for a business meeting. After making the seven-minute drive from her Lancaster home, she sat and watched television in the terminal – where staffers outnumbered the passengers. “It’s right here in the valley. I just thought it was better than having to fight traffic and going to Burbank, LAX or Bakersfield,” said Rose, 46. “It’s very calm and quiet. It’s not the hubbub of other airports.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! PALMDALE – United Airlines’ twice-daily service between Palmdale and San Francisco has won over John Smith, who operates a Lancaster-based travel agency. He has been booking San Francisco tour packages for customers, and no longer has to make the arduous drive to LAX to pick up out-of-town staffers who come to Lancaster for meetings and training. “It’s only 10 minutes to go to the airport. You don’t have to be there two hours before takeoff. You can pull in 20 minutes before takeoff, park for free, walk in and get on the airplane and go,” Smith said. “You don’t have an hour security wait, an hour ticketing wait, no $12- to $15-a-day parking fee, no 2 1/2-hour drive to LAX. … It’s the best thing since whipped butter.” last_img read more