Chattanooga airport authority modifies program

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CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- The airport authority here agreed to modify a fare-information program funded by the airport and operated by a local travel agency after other agents complained that they had no opportunity to get in on the action.

The program, called FareLine, includes a booking service; it is operated by Apollo Travel under a one-year, $30,000 contract.

The modification is intended to ensure the program does not enable one agency to unfairly take clients and booking opportunities from other firms in town.

Henceforth, when a FareLine query seems about to turn into a booking, Apollo Travel personnel are instructed to advise callers of several booking options: other agencies, the airlines, the Web and FareLine, said Christina Siebold, marketing assistant at the airport.

FareLine is part of a plan devised by the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority to counteract a major loss of travelers to more-distant airports where tickets are cheaper.

Only 45% of area travelers use Chattanooga's 27 daily flights, according to a study commissioned by the authority.

Apollo Travel is expected to catalog significant fare disparities, which the authority will use to lobby lines serving Chattanooga to bring rates down. Apollo's reports include data on fare quotes reported by travelers as well as the agency's quotes.

Carol Young, president and owner of All Seasons Travel (located in the airport), is spearheading a drive to get the FareLine contract rescinded. She and several other agents voiced their objections at a Jan. 20 meeting of the airport authority's board; the modification was the board's response.

All Seasons Travel and another protester, Tennessee Valley Travel here, are ARTA members, and ARTA president John Hawks also addressed the recent board meeting.

Hawks said ARTA will con-tinue pressing Chattanooga leaders to put a stop to the program that subsidizes one agency to provide "direct, unfair competition" with all other agencies.

ARTA also created an action plan for agents who wish to organize locally and approach their airports for marketing partnerships before airport leaders launch their own ticket-sales programs.

But for Apollo Travel owner Jimmy Campbell, "the real story at the January meeting was that boardings at Chattanooga were up 3.2% [compared with] 1.9% nationally. This was after we trailed the national number every month in 2003. I like to think that FareLine helped influence this growth."

You can reach the journalist who wrote this article at [email protected].

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