CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Travel agents here are riled up because their
local airport authority tapped a competitor, Apollo Travel, to
create a fare-quote service called FareLine, for which Apollo is
being paid $30,000 over a 12-month period.
The authority's goal is collecting data on fare disparities
between Chattanooga and the closest big airports (Atlanta and
Nashville), but the travel agency also can book travel for callers
and build its database.
A monthlong newspaper ad campaign paid for by the authority
directed readers to FareLine.
Chattanooga agents don't fault Apollo owner Jimmy Campbell for
being aggressive and "smart," as one said, but they believe the
authority made a big mistake in not putting the project out to bid.
They say the promotion of one agency over all others is unfair.
Spearheading a drive
Carol Young, president and owner of All Seasons Travel (which is
located in the airport), is spearheading a drive to get the
FareLine contract rescinded. She and about six other agencies,
representing an estimated 80% of the agency business in
Chattanooga, she said, will make their case at the authority's Jan.
20 board meeting.
FareLine is part of a marketing program devised by the
Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority to counteract a major
loss of travelers to more-distant airports where fares are lower. A
study revealed that only 45% of area travelers fly out on one of
Chattanooga's 27 daily flights, the authority says.
Apollo Travel is expected to catalog significant fare
disparities, which the authority will use to lobby lines serving
Chattanooga to cut their fares.
Young said the goal is to get the rates to within $100 of
out-of-town opportunities on 14-day advance-purchase deals and
within $200 on seven-day advance-purchase fares.
100 calls a week
FareLine was launched in mid-October. Campbell said his $2
million agency gets about 100 calls a week on the special line
created for the project. Fewer than 10% book air, but the "vast
majority" of those customers use the Chattanooga airport, Campbell
said. The agency charges a $10 fee on air sales, and some callers
also book nonair components.
He said almost none of the callers is a travel agent user. Many
are calling to confirm their understanding of what they've seen on
the Internet, and "we find [they have] quite a bit of
misinformation," he said.
The airport authority's Web site offers access to Apollo's
10-month-old Web site at www.flychattanooga.com.
This link is not part of the research project, according to Judy
Graham-Weaver, vice president of marketing for the airport
authority. She said Apollo is the only local agency with a
Web-based booking product, to her knowledge, and the authority
would provide links to other agencies' sites if they existed.
Young's complaints center on the current airport authority
administration, in place more than two years. The previous
administration "was in constant contact with agents, [while] we've
always supported" the airport. Current administrators "never asked
me what I could do," and this smacks of a "good ole boy"
arrangement, she said.
Young noted she had to bid to get her single-office agency in
the airport. "We've been here 17 years, and we took referral calls
[from the airport] for 16 years," she said. She finally asked the
airport to refer callers to the airlines instead because the
financial returns were not worth it.
This sounds like Catch-22: Graham-Weaver said one reason the
airport authority chose to retain a travel agent for its research
was to provide a place to refer people who call the airport to
inquire about fares and to book travel, now that All Seasons no
longer takes the calls.
The bottom line, Young said, is that the authority is
"alienating the largest sales force it has. You can bet this does
not make me loyal."
All Seasons Travel and another local protester, Tennessee Valley
Travel, are ARTA members. ARTA president John Hawks, who will
participate in the airport authority's Jan. 20 board meeting, said
the group is counseling members to seek more modest goals because
it seems unlikely the group can force the cancellation of the
Those goals include eliminating Apollo's option to sell to
FareLine callers and ensuring the contract goes out for bid if it
You can reach the journalist who wrote this article at [email protected].