Flying High: Cherry Capital Airport director on industry upheaval and when to book for spring break

In the midst of the busy summer tourism and travel season, the TCBN caught up with Cherry Capital Airport Director Kevin Klein to hear the latest about airport traffic, the industry, the economy and more.

TCBN: This must be a very, very busy time. How’s the airport doing?

Klein: We’re doing well. I can’t say that we’re not seeing some of the shortages and increased costs due to fuel. But in June 2022, we had 66,621 passengers, and that compares with June 2021 of 79,287 and June 2019 of 62,465. So we knew going in that with pilot shortages and different scheduling changes we would be down versus last summer, but year-to-date we’re up through June – up 15% over 2021. Now you’ll start seeing those changes for summer balance that out. My prediction is at the end of 2022 we won’t beat our 2021 record, but will still have a top five year. Our previous record was 2019 and we will be right around that.

TCBN: With all the upheaval in the industry, are some of the air carriers way up and others down?

Klein: Yes. American is way up and doing very well here. United same. United was up the most this time. They had 9,800 passengers in June versus 8,800 last year. Delta had 9,500 this year and 13,200 last June.

TCBN: And those big swings are due to labor or scheduling, or…?

Klein: Scheduling. Each carrier has adjusted how they’ve done things. With United we don’t have as many flights, but they put in the schedule a 737-900 for Saturday and Sundays departures with 174 seats each. Last year those had 74 seats. So, just not as many flights. United had 453 last year and this year 394; this year they actually had more seats.

TCBN: We hear so much about the cancellations nationwide. Are we any different or better or worse here?

Klein: We are actually doing well. When you look at the majority of hubs canceling, you’d think that would impact us. But we seem to be doing very well in that regard. We’re not immune but definitely doing better than most. Some airlines have actually used us for relief for some of their hubs. When there were storms up the East Coast, flights from Philadelphia to Boston were canceled, so they brought flights from Philadelphia to connect here and head back to Boston.

TCBN: How is the Traverse City Horse Shows doing? Major impact at the airport, I’m guessing, both in terms of private aircraft and major airlines?

Klein: Yes, both are doing great. On the general aviation side, definitely doing well. With their longer, stretched-out season we are definitely seeing that increase on the weekends. We estimate about eight people per horse fly through the airport in some fashion or another, and over the season there are almost 5,000 horses that cycle through. So that’s 40,000 passengers in the summertime attributed just to the horse shows, almost a full month of traffic at the airport. That’s really impressive.

TCBN: How has the labor crunch been affecting you?

Klein: At the airport, we’re doing pretty well. We have a couple open positions, so we’re hiring. So are the airlines, TSA, car rentals. All the tenants. But nobody is in a state of panic right now. TSA has offered some hiring incentives. We do have plenty of rental cars this year, unlike previous years.

TCBN: What are you projecting for the industry in the fall and winter?

Klein: Industry-wise I’m hearing lots of different things. Delta came out and actually indicated starting to see the business traveler return. But most are going to keep their schedules in check. Southwest and others are talking about a 10%-plus drop. But with us through October I haven’t seen anything of a major cut; I actually see increased seat capacity through October versus last year. I have seen some frequency changes on Tuesday and Saturday, but that’s typical of the industry right now. We are in pretty good shape.

TCBN: And fares? They seem to have skyrocketed.

Klein: Fares are up, but if you’re booking 90 days out, you should be in pretty good shape. You won’t see those ultra-low fares anymore, but they’re much better out 90 days. But booking two weeks out, fares have changed significantly. So we’re back to recommending a 90-day booking window.

TCBN: And spring break?

Klein: Allegiant is set through February and this fall they’ll probably extend through spring break time. I’ve talked with American and United about larger aircraft, so there are some opportunities there. Going into 2023 we are very positive. I’m hearing from a lot of different airlines positive things about our market. My best advice is to book early, use TVC because the more we use TVC we prove ourselves to the carriers, and then come two hours early to the airport in the summer and 90 minutes the rest of the year.

TCBN: Any specific markets doing really well into and out of TVC?
Klein: Denver. United is running two flights a day on bigger aircraft, and it’s really doing well. Boston is right behind it. I’m hearing so many good things on the Boston flight.