Terry Trippler predicts airfares will rise, but says the effect of discount carriers will soften the blow locally.
As the cost jet fuel rises, so do airfares. But the Twin Cities may not feel the sting as badly as other major markets thanks largely to discount carriers, said travel expert Terry Trippler.
"We have some low-cost carriers getting a good foothold here that will keep the fares down -- Southwest, Sun Country and Frontier," said Trippler, who runs travel website theplanerules.com.
Trippler has been following airline trends for decades. He became fascinated with airline rules and regulations when he got his start as a Northwest Airlines ticket agent in 1968. Since then, Trippler has been outspoken about changes and consolidation in the airline industry, especially the 2008 merger of Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines.
That deal ultimately helped discount carrier Sun Country, he said, because the Twin Cities lost its hometown airline, Northwest.
Trippler, who works out of his office in Minneapolis, discussed his thoughts on the area's airline market.
QWhat are the major challenges facing the industry?
AI would say the cost of operating an airline and consequently the cost of travel. The airlines have to come up with a way to price their product so that the most people possible can afford them. They are doing that by a la carte pricing, where if they are taking this much baggage you add on. If you want a sandwich in coach [seating], you pay for the sandwich. That way, people can buy just basic transportation from Point A or Point B, or they can do the whole dog and pony show and buy whatever they want. That's been a challenge for both the airline and consumer to adjust to that, but it's here to stay.
QDelta became the dominant air carrier in the Twin Cities when it purchased Northwest Airlines in 2008. How has the market changed?
AFor years, in this town, the three major airlines were Northwest, Republic and Western. Delta has all three.
The top three airlines that we had in the Twin Cities in the '80s are now Delta. Does Delta realize that? Because there are still a lot of people ... flying in the '80s that are still flying today.
QWhat are some things that Delta has done well after its merger with Northwest?
AThey've been able to maximize their aircraft because they have a much larger variety of aircraft. Delta's CEO Richard Anderson has done an outstanding job of keeping employees updated as to what's going on.
They could have stepped up their marketing a little bit more. When Delta came in and took the hometown airline [and] got rid of [Northwest's] red tails ... and took away the Northwest WorldPerks card and decided to stick with Delta's American Express, it was another blow to Minneapolis-St. Paul. Sometimes Delta responds, "People just are too sensitive." I want to respond, "You aren't sensitive enough."
QWhat can travelers at Minneapolis-St. Paul expect for airfares moving forward?
AAirfares are going up. I don't anticipate fares out of Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport to go up as much as other cities.
I would anticipate nothing more than 5 to 10 percent [of a fare increase nationally], but fuel could throw that way off. We may see additional charges. They'll come up with something, trust me, that's similar to baggage [fees]. That may be where we see things change.
QWhat do you think about the rules for carry-on baggage?
AThey are going to have to regulate it somehow, someway. The problem the airlines have is that their gate agents are not policing the carry-on situation. It's not being done. It should be done.
The airlines said labor was the No. 1 cost. A lot of experienced [employees] took buyouts, so unfortunately, many airlines are filled with inexperienced people. Decisions aren't being made as quickly as they should be because the people don't have the experience.
QCould we see more discount airlines like JetBlue at Minneapolis-St. Paul in the future?
AWe could. One of the reasons it may be delayed, is JetBlue's headquarters is in New York. JetBlue would be coming into a market that already has Sun Country and Delta as nonstop flights [there]. We will see the day when JetBlue will be in Minneapolis.
QOf the airlines here, who is winning the hearts, minds and wallets of consumers?
ASun Country, without a doubt, because of the service and the "hometown" [motto] is working. I told Sun Country that their campaign should be, "We'll get you with our fares, but we'll keep you with our service," because that's what they really do.
What Sun Country has going for them is this fierce, loyal following. From the moment you arrive at the Humphrey Terminal, everyone is happy you're there. Everyone is pleased that you're on board. One of the best things that happened to Sun Country was the Delta-Northwest merger, when the Northwest people were beaten down [and the attitude affected its consumers]. That helped Sun Country.
Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712