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Airport Ads: How Some Cities Try to Win Over Airlines and Passengers

A Taos Air billboard advertises nonstop flights between Austin and Taos, NM in the heart of downtown Austin. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Mateen Kontoravdis)

When it comes to the world of supply and demand, the middleman isn’t considered by the aviation world as passengers buy an airline ticket directly from the company. But choosing the price to pay or the airline to fly usually dictates a flyer’s starting point. For airports large and small, the task of winning over both the airline and the passenger is a task that benefits all parties involved if done correctly. So to make sure that expansion happens, here is how some airports across the U.S. are both providing and listening to those interested.

The most common way to promote an airport is through the creation of revenue guarantees for carriers who launch new routes to the city’s airfield. The most common revenue guarantees now comes from mid-sized airports with the money being used to land flights from both domestic and international carriers who start flights to Europe.

New or restarted routes such as Indianapolis to Paris on Delta Airlines and London-Heathrow to Pittsburgh on British Airways have been started in recent years with airlines being promised millions of dollars in guarantees for taking a shot at starting flights to the American city.

By luring in airlines with cash, cities hope that the launch of the route will create organic growth and passengers will produce enough revenue that the airline will not need to tap into the city’s guarantee deposit. The long-term goal is that the airline will not use up all the guaranteed revenue and will keep the service off of just acquiring profit from consumers alone.

Outside of pushing to bring new airlines to their city, some cities can turn to more traditional media outlets to make the case for using local airports. It is not uncommon for a local sports team, event or just media advertisement slot to be used by the local airport, especially at airports that compete for traffic from larger airfields.

A solid example of this comes from Huntsville, Alabama, where the local airport has tried to shed it’s leakage of travelers to Nashville in recent years. The airport has reached out to the community for feedback and has had potential with low-cost carriers like Frontier and AirTran experimenting on the town in the past.

To promote this service and others, the airport has had its media campaign strategy created alongside Decatur, Alabama-based McWhorter Communications. The company has run TV advertisements and billboards for local airlines and the airport as well as create the airport’s slogan “Fly Smart, Fly Huntsville.”

As a result of this push to increase using the local product, the airport was recognized on its 50th anniversary marketing strategy that saw a new logo created to celebrate the event. The Airport Council International-North America awarded Huntsville the Winner of Excellence in Airport Marketing, Communications and Customer Service for their 50th anniversary logo and sponsorship of over 50 events in the Alabaman area that year.

In St. Louis, the local airport has gone through its own image change in the last few years. The refreshed look comes after the Midwestern town transitioned from an ex-TWA hub to a Southwest focus city. In 2016 the airport officially changed its name, swapping the ‘Lambert’ and ‘St. Louis’ parts of its name in hopes of being more visible about the city it is based in when advertising.

The airport would take the campaign as a step further by removing the old blue logo of a plane in front of the St. Louis Arch and replace it with a red, white and silver design. The new logo was explained as a way to enhance the airport’s image by creating a more vibrant image that will stick with travelers. The airport’s abbreviation has also been used for marketing, trying to squeeze the “STL” into various words or phrases that appear on various parts of the terminal or in campaign materials.

Similarly, Wichita rebranded its airport name in 2014 when the airport transitioned into a new terminal. Wichita’s new structure brought the airport into the modern age and saw the airport become the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport.

The largest airport in Kansas has seen steady growth over the previous decade, attracting new airlines like Alaska and Frontier in the process. However, with a lack of a dedicated nonstop flight to the northeast or California, the airport’s marketing push has been spiked thanks to assistance from the cities of Wichita and Newton.

In the new marketing strategy, labeled the ‘I Fly Wichita’ campaign, the airport takes feedback from business travelers and promotes using the airport as a way to create new routes. The campaign highlights some potential routes that could surface if numbers increase to Wichita, including flights to Washington D.C., San Francisco and Salt Lake City.

As part of the marketing campaign, the promotional material highlights what has been achieved in the last few years, making sure to make note of some of the positives that have come to Wichitan’s travel plans. The airport has seen airfare drop severely over the last two decades with the price of airfare with inflation decreasing from over $600 one way in 2000 to just $390 in 2018.

The stats also show that passenger travel has gained 400,000 passengers per year since 2000 and that leakage of flyers to neighboring airports like Oklahoma City and Kansas City has dropped from 44 percent to 18 percent.

But even airports that are at the top of their region will still advertise, just using different outlets to achieve this. For example, Tampa International Airport has taken out ads in magazines such as Airline Business to reach new audience members and put them on the radar of airlines looking for new Florida options.

Even at a large airport, the possibility of landing new airlines will help generate more revenue for the airport and help increase the city’s possibilities and travelers’ experiences for those who use the facility.

Whether it is San Francisco, Bloomington-Normal or Charlotte, the idea of creating new service and opportunities is always considered for an airport. The push for new routes helps incentivize businesses to consider a town and in return creates new jobs and better opportunities going forward. So whenever you decide when and with what airline to fly, also consider where you fly, because it plays a factor on the city going forward.

Ian McMurtry


  • Ian McMurtry

    Although Ian McMurtry was never originally an avgeek, he did enjoy watching US Airways aircraft across western Pennsylvania in the early 2000s. He lived along the Pennsylvania Railroad and took a liking to trains but a change of scenery in the mid-2000s saw him shift more of an interest into aviation. He would eventually express this passion by taking flying lessons in mid-Missouri and joining AirlineGeeks in 2013. Now living in Wichita, Kansas, Ian is in college majoring in aerospace engineering and minoring in business administration at Wichita State University.

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