Flights coming, going at airport
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Technically speaking, Pittsburgh International Airport will lose nonstop flights to two more destinations later this month. But at the same time it won't lose nonstop service to either location.
USA 3000 will drop nonstop commercial service to Cancun, Mexico, and Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, from Pittsburgh on Dec. 13. But a week later, on Dec. 20, Apple Vacations will begin offering nonstop charter service to those same locations, in partnership with AirTran Airways.
With the changes, the airport -- technically at least -- will lose one of its 13 airlines and two of the 38 nonstop commercial destinations it had as of Sept. 30. AirTran is not counting either of the trips as a commercial flight.
Nonetheless, airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said the effect on travelers should be minimal. She said USA 3000 and Apple Vacations also worked in partnership and that the majority of travelers who took the commercial flights booked through Apple.
"Apple was filling those planes," she said. "We will have one less commercial service airline operating here but that's really a technicality, frankly, when you figure USA 3000 primarily offered Apple charters."
While travelers will not be able to book flights through AirTran, the Apple Website does allow them to select a flight-only option for Cancun and Punta Cana.
Fares can be pricey, based on a quick check yesterday. A roundtrip flight to Cancun leaving on Dec. 20 with a Dec. 24 return to Pittsburgh was priced at $900.79. The same flight with a Jan. 10 departure and Jan. 14 return was $530.79.
By comparison, the highest priced options available to Cancun on USA 3000 in December before the airline drops the flights totaled about $430 roundtrip.
Kris Potter, Apple's vice president of marketing, said fares, overall, will be competitive with those offered by commercial airlines. She said flight-only fares will start at $499.99 to Cancun and $629.99 to Punta Cana.
"They are always competitive. In some situations, we may only have a few seats left on an airplane. Just like commercial airlines, pricing is based on availability and popularity," she said.
USA 3000 currently offers two nonstop flights a week to Cancun and two to Punta Cana. Apple will start with two flights a week to Cancun and then jump to three a week in February. It will offer two flights a week to Punta Cana.
AirTran will provide Boeing 737 jets to both destinations. USA 3000 uses Airbus 320s to make the trips.
Ms. Potter said Apple decided to team with AirTran because it wanted a "carrier who had a larger fleet size and offered Apple Vacations an opportunity for ample growth in Pittsburgh."
USA 3000, meanwhile, has been cutting or discontinuing service in a number of cities because of the weak economy. As for the Pittsburgh cuts, Steve Harfst, USA 3000 president and CEO, said the airline is reducing the size of its fleet "and did not have the aircraft to service the Pittsburgh market."
At one time, before drastic cutbacks by US Airways, Pittsburgh had more than 110 nonstop destinations. While it technically will lose two more this month, Ms. Jenny predicted that travelers would be happy with the charter service.
"I think passengers are going to be very satisfied on AirTran because of the quality of their aircraft and service," she said.
The transition, she added, should be "pretty much seamless."
First Published December 1, 2009 12:00 am