Cape Air Promotes Fare Package Deals

Commuter Airline Attempts to Bolster Declining Passenger Traffic in September 11 Aftermath

By JOSHUA SABATINI

While many airlines across the nation continue to suffer following the Sept. 11 tragedy, Hyannis-based Cape Air has remained strong during tough times.

In fact, the Vineyard's primary carrier now says it will expand charter services this month, and also is looking into adding service to both New York city and southeastern Connecticut. In the interim, Cape Air has begun a special promotion to bolster traffic.

"The airline is in a good position," said communications director Michelle Haynes. "We are not in debt, we own our own planes and we have not laid off anyone."

While Cape Air is financially sound, Miss Haynes said, the number of passengers on its fleet of 49 nine-passenger Cessna 402s is down across the board. Islanders use the airline to fly to and from Boston, Hyannis, Nantucket, New Bedford and Providence.

To stimulate air travel, last month Cape Air joined with four Boston-area hotels to offer City Adventure - a flight and room package for travelers visiting from the Vineyard, Nantucket or Provincetown. Weekend passengers can purchase a round-trip ticket to Boston for $99 if they have booked a room at one of the hotels, at rates as low as $129 per night.

Despite the airline's past overtures, Boston hotels historically were unwilling to offer its passengers a discount, Miss Haynes said. The hotels have since changed their attitude, she said, because bookings declined following Sept. 11.

"Now with low occupancy in Boston, hotels are coming out of the woodwork," Miss Haynes said. "They are loving this."

She added that the original impetus to create this type of package was a desire to give Islanders an opportunity to do something in the off-season.

All summer long, the airline brings large numbers of people to the Vineyard. "It's fun to now reverse traffic," Miss Haynes said.

The airline is sensitive to the fact that there are great restaurants and places to shop on the Island, she said, so the advertising for the package stresses the city experience, such as seeing a show.

Boston has been overlooked of late, Miss Haynes said, as the fear of terrorism has made some shy away from Logan Airport there. Hub traffic also may be affected by widespread publicity encouraging visitors to go to New York city and spend money to help that city cope with economic hardship.

"Boston is our capital," stressed Miss Haynes. "Unfortunately because of the terrorists, Logan Airport is being maligned. Travel on Cape Air is made easy. If you want to ease back into Logan, this is the way to go."

She reported that Cape Air's service through Boston is down 20 per cent, while its traffic overall is down 10 to 15 per cent. Compared to previous off-season schedules, Miss Haynes said, the number of scheduled flights has not decreased dramatically, although multiple planes are not needed as often as in the past.

Upcoming marketing may bring more passengers. Later this month, Cape Air will advertise charter flights to the New York area. Miss Haynes said there also is talk of starting service to Groton, Conn., with the Mohegan Sun casino as a partner that would transport passengers to and from the airport.

Miss Haynes also told the Gazette yesterday that Cape Air is considering beginning regular scheduled service to New York city.

Direct winter service between New York and the Vineyard ended Oct. 15, when US Airways Express halted Island operations after five years. Since then, anyone flying to New York has had to change planes - and airlines - generally in Boston or Providence.

US Airways eliminated service to the Island in a system restructuring following Sept. 11, airport manager Bill Weibrecht told the Gazette in September. The airline's costs had increased even as ridership fell.

Even so, US Airways had said on Sept. 12 that advanced bookings on its New York routes were favorable. So there is an apparent market out there, and Cape Air may fill that void next month.

Mr. Weibrecht said recently that he has received "indications" that US Airways plans to restart its service to and from the Island, probably this summer. But he said the airport still would embrace Cape Air service to the Big Apple.

"We would continue to look for additional service to New York, but based on Cape Air's [relationship] with us, anything they do in that line we will support," he said.