Fisking Christopher Elliott…. again.

Christopher Elliott brings us another ill-informed column this week. This time he’s opining on the new startup idea currently dubbed “Project Roam” which would be a low cost airline based in Pittsburgh. It’s the brainchild of Ed Beauvais.

Elliott hypes the project — which doesn’t yet have funding or an operating certificate — as a potential miracle for the industry:

    But Project Roam promises to be more than a boost to Pittsburgh, and more than a feisty rival to a lumbering legacy airline. The new ideas it brings with it could change the way we think about an airline — and the way airlines think about us. That would benefit all travelers and possibly create a stronger, more customer-friendly airline industry.

Here are a few of the more bizarre claims in the piece.

First, “Pittsburgh as a discretionary destination”

    The new airline won’t just rely on Pittsburgh’s exploited airline passengers for business. Officials estimate there’s also pent-up demand for lower fares that are lost to other, less-expensive airports. Roddey estimates that about 700,000 passengers skip Pittsburgh every year because of its high fares, but they’d fly if they could afford to. Mainline carriers, however, generally don’t ask themselves how to encourage new passengers to fly, but only how to get existing passengers to pay more for their tickets.

People fly to Pittsburgh when they have to, for sure, and there’s a high tech industry there that has begun to replace the old steel economy. But business travel isn’t the discretionary market. That’s tourism and leisure travel. Certainly when prices fall, quantity demanded rises. And no doubt lower fares will bring about marginal passengers visiting family. But it’s unclear just how significant this market is, and in any case to reach the market would require not just lower average fares but in all likelihood would require fares that are lower than the current deepest discount and most restricted fares that exist. Unlikely.

Elliott is impressed by a new innovation: flexibility.

    Beauvais said he’s even considering making tickets completely transferable, meaning travelers could allow others to use their tickets if they can’t make a flight.

But Elliott doesn’t seem to know that this isn’t a new innovation at all. This is already JetBlue’s practice.

Elliott finds credibility in Beauvais’ claims because this is the man who founded America West. The implication here is that America West is doing well, so Beauvais may just pull off another success.

But Elliott never points out that Beauvais was the Chairman of America West when the airline filed for bankruptcy. And he never points out that Beauvais’ next airline project was Western Pacific whose bankruptcy ended in liquidation.

Darryl Jenkins, while arguably too close to some of the major airlines, is still a fairly keen observer and has a take on Beauvais that differs from Elliott:

    Ed Beauvais is always able to talk people out of their money — and then been perfectly capable of throwing their money down the toilet,” said Darryl Jenkins, director of George Washington University’s Aviation Institute.

    “He has good general concepts, like America West. He just operates badly — like flying across the Pacific Rim from Phoenix,” Jenkins said.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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