Memphis airfare forum gets heated

(WMC-TV) - High air fares, long security check-in lines, and delayed flights are just a few complaints airport experts dealt with during a public forum in Memphis Thursday afternoon.

At one point, the forum even got heated.

The forum was held to address why Memphis airfares are rated as some of the highest in the country. It ended up becoming a blowout over fact and faction.

The high price of flying out of Memphis is a hot button issue. It got even hotter at the Memphis Chamber of Commerce Thursday when city leaders and airline analysts offered their take on why Memphis airfares are so much more than other cities across the country.

"Most people don't want to hear this but most if it is that jet fuel has tripled in the past decade," said Seth Kaplan, Airline Weekly.

But travelers are not buying that excuse, especially when a drive to Little Rock or Nashville can save fliers hundreds of dollars.

"If Delta cared about the consumer they would have more flights go through here even though there's less traffic getting in here," said Congressman Steve Cohen.

Why do people continue to pay the higher fares? Delta has cut their number of Memphis flights almost in half. With virtually no competition, planes are still filling up. Travelers find connections here to be less stressful than a larger airport like Atlanta.

Frustrations have been mounting on the Facebook page 'Delta does Memphis' founded by former Shelby County aide Tom Jones.

"What this group has wanted is for someone to acknowledge that we're getting gouged by Delta. It's a monopoly," said Jones.

Longtime airport supporters find Jones accusations inflammatory and offensive.

"He is absolutely tearing apart our city by creating the negativity of what you heard positively from some of the top people in the airline industry," said Airport advocate Mary Lynn Perl.

Larry Cox with the Airport Authority said the time is right for lower fares. Southwest is coming. Fewer Delta flights make it less intimidating for a low cost airline to move in. And the Airport Authority is now offering smaller carriers an attractive incentive program

"Now that the hub is smaller and we can have a meaningful incentive program, it's going to be much easier for me to make that sell," said Cox.

Delta Airline representatives were not invited to the event.

Convention and Visitors Bureau President Kevin Kane said the high fares do not appear to be hurting tourism, in fact, last year was a record year and he said the number one reason we lose convention business is our lack of large hotels.

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