Direct flight cuts out of TIA hurting business owners

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Reported by: Ian Silver
Updated: 4/03/2013 8:37 am Published: 4/02/2013 7:34 pm

Monday was the last time Tulsans could catch a direct flight to Los Angeles out of Tulsa International Airport.

United Airlines decided to move the route from Tulsa to Wichita, Kansas.

But that move is already hurting local business owners.

The flight was the only direct flight out of Tulsa to the entire west coast of the U.S. Travelers can still get there, but only with layovers, which add significant travel time to the trip.

Art Kennedy calls himself a "super commuter."

"It's a big commitment, obviously, to commute back and forth to a place so far away," Kennedy said.

Kennedy started his business in California after graduating from OU, and found early success. But he and his wife moved from California to the Tulsa area two years ago to raise their children with Oklahoma family values. But Kennedy still flies to Los Angeles almost every week to meet with clients.

"I would typically go out on a Tuesday morning, it was a non-stop flight to LAX, and then come back Thursday evening on the last flight," he said. "And that's non-stop also."

On occasion, he was even able to get to L.A. for a meeting, and be back in Tulsa the same night in time to tuck his son into bed.

But after United Airlines cut the direct service his life is changing.

"I now have to spend two nights and three days for an hour-and-a-half meeting, where I used to just go for a day."

Kennedy says the change isn't just costing him extra money on hotels.

"It costs me in time with my family," he said. "It costs me in work time."

Kennedy was planning to hire on at least one more employee soon, but had to cancel those plans.

Now he's not even sure he can stay in Tulsa.

But Kennedy also says the cut in direct flights to Los Angeles is costing the entire Tulsa region.

"It's affecting Tulsa," he said. "It's affecting business, more jobs, more economic impact to the overall community. It trickles through the entire network in our city."

United decided to move the flight route to Wichita, Kansas after that city and state offered the airline big incentives like subsidies for fuel and discounts on gate fees.

Alexis Higgins with the Tulsa Airport Authority said similar incentives could be an option in Tulsa, but there are drawbacks to them.

"The goal is to get that airline here, stand it up, make sure it can be successful without the incentives," she said. "Because what happens is when the incentives go away, then that flight goes away."

Over the past several years Tulsa has also lost non-stop service to six other cities including Albuquerque, New Mexico, Austin, Texas, Orange County, California, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Texas, and San Diego, California.

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