Do you live in a more rural area with a small, regional airport? Times are tough for travelers hoping to catch a flight out of one of these markets. In fact, since the start of the pandemic, the legacy airlines have pulled out of 74 regional airports. In this post we hope to explain what’s going on and whether there is hope for the small regional airport.

Why are legacy airlines leaving smaller markets?

Cost is a factor

Smaller jets service smaller communities, and the airplanes that go into smaller markets are often 50-seaters. The issue is cost – cost of labor, cost of fuel, costs of maintenance. Judging by the legacy airlines’ behavior over the past few years, they’re making tough decisions around which communities to continue service. The airlines want to remain profitable, and it’s become increasingly difficult for them to do so in these smaller markets. 

So, when airlines aren’t pulling completely out of a market, often times the expensive flights cause people to make the drive to a larger airport. Sometimes the larger airports are nearish; but other times people have to make a long drive to catch a flight. We did a study earlier this year about the increase in airfare since 2022 – smaller cities were hit harder than larger

Other factors affecting the airline industry

The airline industry continues to see shortages in pilots and staffing. When you roll this issue, into those of costs and even customer demand in smaller markets, it begins to paint a clear picture. Factors influencing these airline decisions. 

The airlines are also banking on our highway and road infrastructure to pick up the slack. They’re rolling the dice and hoping that leisure travelers will change the way they travel – driving longer distances to access larger airports. So far, this gamble seems to be paying off. 

However, this is cold comfort for these smaller communities. If you live in a remote area where air service has been discontinued or suspended, it can have a ripple affect. What if you can’t bring clients to your business for meetings, or if you have to leave the night before to drive six hours to the nearest airport? It can be an economic burden or barrier to travel.  

What is the solution for travelers when airlines leave smaller markets?

The future is unclear at the moment. But there is hope in the form of one government program called Essential Air Services (EAS). Under the EAS program, the government will subsidize airlines’ service to unprofitable destinations.

Smaller municipalities are looking to EAS to help get them through the pilot shortage, when they anticipate service will be able to rebound. But one problem that isn’t going away is the trend towards larger planes. Large planes will not likely be brought back in to service a small town with just a handful of daily passengers.

We’ll keep you posted on how this story evolves over time. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you. Do you live in a smaller market? How do you feel about this trend? Do you have to drive long distances to catch flights and how do you feel about that?


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