Our newest reporter, Charlie Pike, asked me the other day about flying home for Christmas. And commenting on how expensive and inconvenient the flight schedules between Reno and Atlanta were.
Of course, I looked at him as if he were an alien (and sometimes I think he is an alien).
Wouldn’t it be much easier and more efficient to fly out of Bishop and through Denver? I suggested.
Can you do that? he replied in amazement.
Yes, I have said. You can do that. And there’s even a local discount code that gets you 10% off.
The exchange poses one of the key challenges for a marketing organization like Mammoth Lakes Tourism.
The local population, as well as the state population, changes quite quickly. And each wave of newcomers must be reached and introduced to what the Sierra has to offer.
As Mammoth Lakes Executive Director of Tourism John Urdi points out, since he took office more than a decade ago, many people have left California. But more have come. The state’s population is two million greater than it was a decade ago: nearly 40 million.
But people tend to find out about you pretty quickly when the snow falls early.
The early snow has proven to be a boon to early season local commercial flight bookings.
Mammoth Lakes executive director of tourism, John Urdi, told The Sheet this week that flight bookings are about double what they were at this same time a year ago.
The only difference in the schedule this year is that United no longer offers a Bishop-LAX flight.
There are still flights to Denver and San Francisco from Bishop.
Charter flights from Mammoth via Advanced Airlines are scheduled to Carlsbad, Burbank and Hawthorne. No, not the population center of Hawthorne, Nevada, but Hawthorne, California, which is only ten miles from LAX.
Hawthorne Airport offers a free shuttle to LAX.
MLT, which has signed a promotional deal with skier Glen Plake as a marketing ploy, plans to fly Plake via Hawthorne to LAX next month to show how easy it is.
Advanced offers a 20% discount to locals flying “opposite” routes, ie outbound flights Thursday/Friday and inbound Sunday/Monday flights.
Advanced is also launching seasonal 10-flight packages. $190 each way to and from Hawthorne and Burbank and $200 each way to Carlsbad.
Packs of 10 “locals” are priced at $140/$160 per branch respectively.
The Sheet spoke to Mr. Urdi last week about the goals/future of the local air service.
The biggest challenge right now is the cost of fuel.
As Urdi says, every penny per gallon increase in the cost of fuel costs MLT an additional $8 in subsidy per flight.
Last March, for example, MLT had a load factor of 74% on its Denver flight. Usually 70% is the breakeven point. But rising fuel prices prevented MLT from making a dent in its subsidy bill.
A blessing in disguise from the pandemic was that money was budgeted for the air subsidy but never spent due to cancellations. This has given Urdi and MLT a bit of a war chest to use to expand into new markets.
In Urdi’s opinion, the three main priorities for route expansion are:
1.) Dallas via American Airlines, because it offers amazing connectivity.
2.) Salt Lake City
When asked about Phoenix, Urdi said he’s a little nervous about the market because Vail has failed there on a few occasions.
The strong reserves so far this year (see graph) promise fewer subsidies and even more resources to raise for next year.
On the Mammoth side, Advanced Airlines had 1,600 sites outside of MMH last year. An airport that reaches 10,000 seats per year will receive a $1 million subsidy from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).
“We could reach 10,000 shipments,” says Urdi, “but to recover the million dollars would cost 2 million dollars in flight subsidies.”
MMH’s summer air service, which essentially ran from Father’s Day to Labor Day, cost more than $300,000.