Venango Regional Airport touts its travel ties to Paris

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Paris, France, population 2.2 million, has the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe.

Franklin, Pa., population 6,500, has the Venango County Courthouse and Dan Hardesty's Wild West Museum.

More than a oui bit of difference there, but the two cities have one thing in common -- they are connected by airline service. In an effort to publicize that, a tourism agency issued an email blast extolling the virtues of traveling to Paris from Franklin's Venango Regional Airport rather than from Pittsburgh.

"So ... if you are considering a flight to Paris, consider this -- drive to Franklin rather than Pittsburgh and park for free rather than paying $13/day in the long-term lot. You also avoid the need to arrive four hours early and stand in line," says the email, issued this week by the Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry & Tourism.

It also draws seemingly unfavorable comparisons to Pittsburgh-Paris airfare, the wait to clear customs and the size of the aircraft that carry travelers to France and back. But the author said he's not trying to lure Pittsburghers to drive the 70-plus miles to Franklin on their way to Gay Paree.

PG map: Venango Regional Airport
(Click image for larger version)

"I'm just trying to let [local] people know that you can fly from Franklin to Paris or London. We don't expect people to drive up from Pittsburgh," airport manager O.C. Bell said in a phone interview Thursday. "We're simply trying to retain as many of our travelers as we can.

"As a resident of Pittsburgh, I appreciate the heck out of that nonstop service [from Pittsburgh International Airport to Paris]," he said. "I hope we're able to keep it."

The email starts by comparing airfare: $65 cheaper from Franklin for travel in mid-August. (A check by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Thursday found a price differential of $111 per round trip.) It mentions the connection cities for travelers from Franklin and observes that those airports have large customs staffs.

"Pittsburgh has one international flight per day seasonally -- the one operated by Delta and customs and immigration takes as long or longer than the busier airports," it says.

The email then offers sample itineraries to and from Franklin, which require two connections. The nonstop Pittsburgh-to-Paris flight, aboard a Boeing 757-200, is "a long flight on a narrow body aircraft," it observes, with the word "long" underlined.

"There's nothing wrong with the 757. It's a good airplane," said Mr. Bell, who said he has flown to Paris from Pittsburgh but not from Franklin.

And that reference to arriving four hours early and standing in line?

"Pittsburgh's very convenient," he said. He said he meant people traveling from the Franklin area would have to leave home four hours in advance of their flight if departing from Pittsburgh.

There are some possible drawbacks to traveling to Paris from Franklin, not spelled out in the email. The first leg, to Cleveland, is aboard a 19-seat Beechcraft. Because no airlines offer nonstop flights from Cleveland to Paris, another layover awaits. The travel time is 41/2 to 6 hours longer than Delta's Pittsburgh-Paris nonstop flight.

Pittsburgh International doesn't feel threatened by its neighbor to the north.

"I see what he's interested in doing. It's important for the local community to use the local airport," said JoAnn Jenny, spokeswoman for the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which oversees Pittsburgh International.

"If you're a business traveler, or a leisure traveler, I don't think you want to make two stops," she said. "It's really hard to compete with a nonstop flight."

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Jon Schmitz: jschmitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at www.post-gazette.com/Roundabout. Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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