Opinion » Editorial

Hub City Blues

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Look, out there in the wild blue yonder: It's a bird, it's a plane ... it's a Delta plane. And if it just took off from the airline's hub here in Memphis, headed for Nashville, some 200-odd miles away, it could cost you $600 to get on it.

Better just to drive.

What a great many Memphians have grown accustomed to doing, of course, is driving to Nashville or to Little Rock to catch flights for $300 or $400 less than what Delta would charge for a flight to the same destination from Memphis. And, just to rub salt in the wound, many of the cheaper flights from those cities connect to their destinations through Memphis! The Bluff City is a Delta hub, but if there are advantages to that designation these days, we fail to see them. With no significant competitors at our airport, Delta charges Memphis a premium, because it can.

Time was, when Northwest/KLM, Delta's pre-merger predecessor as the hub airline in Memphis, could offer some significant perks. Frequent flights in a multitude of directions, for example. Or a nonstop flight to Amsterdam, greatly facilitating the ease of European travel. Now, with Delta in the cabin, the nonstop to the Old World is soon to be gone, as are a great number and variety of other desirable flights.

The fact is that Memphis International Airport has the third-highest airfares in the country. Airfares in Memphis rose 20 percent from 2010 to 2011. Those high fares handicap Memphis' hopes for attracting new industries and corporate partners, not to mention conventions and tourists. Memphis is at a distinct competitive disadvantage, thanks to the inordinately high airfare being charged to get in and out of town.

There are many things for which we are grateful to Tom Jones, whose Smart City blog consistently provides readers with helpful hints, progressive ideas, and valuable studies pointing the way to social and commercial progress. Most recently, we owe Jones a solid for starting the Facebook group "Delta Does Memphis," a slogan in which the verb has a decidedly transitive and painful purpose. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, local air travelers can vent, share pricing horror stories, and, one hopes, get to the point of organizing purposeful action. In Cincinnati, which faced a similar problem with Delta, ordinary folks, in tandem with city, state, and airport officials, managed to get Delta to the negotiating table, producing more flights at better rates.

There's no reason why we here in Memphis have to content ourselves with singing the blues or, as some have counseled us, to console ourselves with the perfunctory excuses offered by Delta's brass for the sorry state of affairs. Revolutions start at the grassroots, and we can feel one stirring.

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