Anyone who travels by plane even just once a year should pay attention to the latest proposals from Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, as they could impact your wallet in a direct way that most public policy issues rarely do.
If you're like many people who live in Greater Cincinnati, you've probably become accustomed to waking at obscenely early hours in the morning when taking a trip that involves air travel or blocking out an entire day to prepare for your flight.
With many flights out of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport routinely costing hundreds of dollars more than flights to the same destinations from nearby airports, most travelers find it worth the trouble to drive for a few hours to save big bucks. The practice has become so common that airports in Columbus and Indianapolis — each more than 100 miles away — have begun advertising in the Cincinnati market.
Most people blame Cincinnati's high fares on Delta Air Lines' near-monopoly on the local airport, which occurs because the Atlanta-based company operates a hub here. For the uninitiated, that means Delta uses it as a major transfer point for many passengers, herding them through CVG to make connections between airports not served by direct flights.
As a result, Delta controls about 85 percent of the business here.
With the U.S. airline industry on financially shaky ground, however, having never fully recovered from the slump after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and some bad decision-making, Delta is in trouble. The company is in talks to merge with either Northwest or United airlines.
Sensing an opportunity to exert some pressure, Portune has suggested a few ideas for helping this region's air travelers.
First, Portune wants Ohio to have a greater say in how the airport is managed. Currently, Hamilton County appoints only one non-voting member to the 11-member Kenton County Airport Board that manages the facility.
Portune has asked Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland to have Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear persuade that state's lawmakers into changing the board's makeup. Strickland was surprised by the current situation, Portune says: "He had no idea that we had no effective representation on that board."
Whether Kentucky would willingly give up some control over the airport is uncertain, and Hamilton County officials hope residents will lobby lawmakers from Northern Kentucky suburbs with letters and calls.
Also, Portune is having county administrators develop a business plan that could be used by a private company to provide luxury bus service to carry residents to airports in Columbus, Dayton, Indianapolis and Louisville.
Portune doesn't expect that any potential Delta merger will affect air fares and feels something must be done.
"The problems everyone is worried about have little to do with the merger," he says, "and everything to do with how the airport's managed."
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