The Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and the City of San Antonio are ramping up an initiative that could lead to more nonstop flights to and from San Antonio for business travelers.

The chamber has posted a survey on its website, asking members and partners about their business air travel habits, and specifically, is seeking feedback on business travel to and from Boston Logan International Airport. Travelers to that city now have to connect through Dallas, Houston or take the Jet Blue flight from Austin.

If the City and Chamber can demonstrate sufficient passenger traffic between the two cities, officials believe one or more airlines will establish daily nonstop service. There are currently 35 cities with daily nonstop service to and from San Antonio International Airport. Nonstop service to Miami, New Orleans and Cancún have been added this year. Five of the cities are in Mexico.

San Antonio offers fewer daily nonstop destinations than Dallas, Houston or Austin, and travelers who live in San Antonio often cite New York LaGuardia, Washington Reagan, and Boston Logan as three destination they wish were served by daily nonstop flights.

San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez at the panel discussion “Conversations on Water,” at UTSA. Photo by Scott Ball.
San Antonio Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez. File photo by Scott Ball.

Richard Perez, The San Antonio Chamber’s president and CEO, said his organization’s partnership with the City is a sustained, longterm effort to increase the number of direct flight paths.

“How do you do that?” he asked rhetorically. “We just ask the people who fly for business where do they go, how often and what comes of that,” he said. “Our analysis of that information will help us going forward.”

According to Perez, the relative lack of such flights, or lift, to and from San Antonio impedes growth and in key industries, including healthcare, bioscience, information technology (IT) and aerospace. He said nonstop flights also make San Antonio a more desirable tourism destination and a more attractive venue for conventions and conferences. Perez said all modes of transit available to and from of a city impact business activity.

Why Boston? Perez said Boston’s booming biotechnology and healthcare sectors, and its concentration of top tier colleges and universities makes it a “natural connection” for San Antonio.

“It just made sense to look at Boston first. They have a lot of businesses there similar to ours in healthcare and biotech,” Perez said. “They have a talented, locally produced workforce and venture capital.”

“How many round trips per year do your employees make between San Antonio and Boston?” and “When traveling to Boston, does your company typically fly a specific airline?” are among the survey questions. The survey also asks whether business travelers use another mode of transportation to get to another regional airport to fly to Boston, a question that appears to measure the number of San Antonians who drive to Austin to catch the nonstop flight to Boston.

The survey also asks if business travelers would be more inclined to fly to Boston if San Antonio offered nonstop service.

Frank Miller, director of the San Antonio Aviation Department, applauded the Chamber’s efforts, and agreed that the airlines will act on good data.

“It’s very important to get extensive input from the business community. The airlines will look closely at their level of involvement here,” Miller said.

Miller said he and colleagues usually attend gatherings with airline officials twice a year to discuss boosting air service. It’s during these meetings that representatives from each aviation department market their city’s value as a specific type of destination. Miller jokingly referred to it as “speed dating, but with airlines.”

Passengers await a flight. Photo by Scott Ball.
Passengers await a flight. at San Antonio International Airport. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“We’re put into an environment where we sit down with the airline and we have them look at the viability of a particular flight and city,” Miller said. He added that the idea is to identify patterns and needs in what he called passenger-based traffic, providing the airlines with key points of data. If an air carrier sees potential in a city, follow-up meetings between the carrier and the city take place at the interested airline’s corporate office.

Miller said the air travel practices and habits on the part of airlines and travelers change from time to time, and it’s crucial for the city and its aviation department to adapt to those changes, which can lead to the development of  new routes or added service to existing destinations.

The availability of daily nonstop flights is an appeal that’s becoming stronger with each passing year as consumers try to minimize travel cost and time. Flight update app FlightView recently surveyed more than 2,300 travelers. Seventy percent of the respondents said they would pay more for a nonstop flight. One-third of those people said they would pay 16% more than the original ticket cost to avoid a layover.

“We need to have incentives to attract these kinds of routes, so we need lots of help and support from the business community,” Perez said. “It’s meant to show airlines and other cities how committed we are.”

“The airlines are always looking out for incentives,” added Miller. “They’re also looking at the community and how it can support a new direct route, the people that are involved in it. It’s why this partnership between the City and chamber is so critical.”

American Airlines added daily nonstop service to and from Miami in March. One month later, Southwest Airlines began daily non-stop service flights to and from New Orleans. Alaska Airlines helped to make Seattle a direct destination. Mexican carriers Volaris and Interjet were critical to landing non-stop flights to and from Mexican cities.

Perez said it’s important for airlines to see the numerous investments the City is making at the airport, including the new close-in rental care facility now under construction. The airport opened Terminal B in 2010, and renovated Terminal A in 2014, creating more room for a new baggage handling facility and more individual merchants to serve visitors. New restaurants and retail venues and improved restrooms were added.

San Antonio International serviced a record 8.4 million passengers arriving in 2014.

“There’s been good movement with the San Antonio International Airport, but when you hit a milestone, you don’t stop there. You keep up the progress,” Perez said.

*Featured/top image: A map of nonstop flights offered by San Antonio International Airport (SAT) as of August 2015.

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Edmond Ortiz

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.