CHARLES B. GILLESPIE: Take flight at Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in Albany

GUEST COMMENTARY: When you add it all up, flying out of Albany is a smart option

Charles B. Gillespie

Charles B. Gillespie

While serving as an airport commissioner for several years, I always keep my ears open as to what people are saying about our newly completed airport terminal. Most feel it is a significant improvement over the older facility, both in design and functionality.

In January or February, the last phase of construction will begin that includes the demolition of the old terminal building. The old building will be replaced with a new short-term parking lot and rental car return lot, which will provide more direct access to the new building. Our new terminal building will also be more visible from Newton Road and a lot of the headaches that the public is currently experiencing will be a distant memory. The project will take nine months to complete, so please be patient with us as we move through various construction phases that may alter parking areas and the way that you get to and from the new terminal building.

Many potential passengers have told me that they leave town to catch their flights, especially to Atlanta. Several have expressed that “we (the commission) should lower the prices of tickets to/from Atlanta (ATL).” In each instance, they had no knowledge that all fares are totally determined by the Delta/Delta Connection computers. Staff inquires have shown the fares from other regional airports are comparatively the same as those to/from Albany (ABY).

Much can be learned when the Delta.com website is visited, where rate changes can be seen from hour to hour or, in some instances, minute to minute. Fares are an inexact science; a particular fare can vary because of how many seats are already sold, historical information on the flight, how many seats are still available in a particular fare category, etc. There are only so many seats on each flight in each fare category, and when the low-cost seats are gone, that means that you will pay more.

Also what is not known by most people is the best method to use when planning trips via the Delta.com web site (always use the airport code ABY). Your entry should be only the origin city and the final destination city, wherever that may be. Do not put in each interim city as the computer will add the two separate costs together.

If you want to go to several cities, on your trip, click the “Multi City” link on the Delta website. You can then add the middle cities and dates in the indicated sites. Just make sure you have entered your origination city and your destination at the beginning and at the end of the program. The computer will do all the work for you. For example, if you are going to New York’s LaGuardia (LGA) airport, you should put ABY as the origination and LGA as the final destination. Enter in your travel dates and the type of service you prefer (tourist vs. first class) and you are done. Do not enter in ABY-ATL and and then ATL-LGA. The fares will always be lower when you allow the Delta website do its job. When using Delta’s website always use the airport code ABY.

Also important is to watch when your ticket and luggage tags are printed at a check-in counter. Be sure your Albany portions lists ABY, not ALB. If the latter is seen, you and/or your luggage will be traveling to Albany, N.Y.!

I first discovered the “paired cities” concept a few years back when I was planning a trip to Chile. My first entry was ABY-ATL with a separate segment ATL-Santiago (STG), resulting in a fare that showed the ABY-ATL segment to be approximately $375 round-trip and the ATL-STG flight segment to be approximately $577 round trip. I then entered ABY-STG in the computer and the fare from ABY to ATL was only $250 round trip since Delta had ABY-STG on their “paired cities” list. We do not have information on which cities are paired, but there are cities that are more heavily traveled than others and those are chosen to be paired.

In another case, I was once assigned to work with the Marine Corps Logistics Base (MCLB) travel office on trying to get more of their personnel to fly out of Albany. At that time, Delta had agreements with only seven paired cities. Of note was that the route to the Barstow, Calif., base was via Los Angeles instead of the closer city of Las Vegas. No one could determine why Los Angeles was selected as opposed to Las Vegas, since much time (and money) was saved sending their passengers via Las Vegas.

After speaking with the Delta scheduling people in Atlanta, not only was the Los Angeles vs. Las Vegas situation corrected, but at that time approximately 14 paired cities were established for the use of both the MCLB passengers, but also regular citizens in the Southwest Georgia area. Over time, even more domestic and international cities have been entered in the fare-pairing programs. Unfortunately, since Delta and Northwest merged, it is more difficult to obtain this information than before. There are more than 20,000 different fare combinations out there, so paired cities and fares are extremely difficult to change, especially when it is very difficult to figure out the algorithms that the airlines use to set fares and pair cities together.

There are safety factors to be considered as well as the time and cost it takes to travel to Atlanta, especially since gasoline is not cheap any more. Also of concern is that Atlanta traffic is extremely unpredictable, the airport parking costs are not cheap, nor is the location of their new parking lots convenient. In their remote location, people have to use an elevated train to the terminal (more time lost). Inside the “world’s busiest airport,” security lines are always much longer and the agents are probably less friendly than those at Albany.

When you return here, your bags are just around the corner versus in Atlanta where you have to pick up your luggage in a different terminal which can take 30-45 minutes (much more time lost). Then you are faced with the drive back home (time), often in a fatigued state following a long flight. Again in Albany, you are often just a few miles from your own bed.

It is true that dollars may or may not be saved by flying out of elsewhere. However, considering the above factors, it is much easier to fly out of Southwest Georgia Regional Airport.

Fly ABY! Happy and Safe Traveling!

Charles B. Gillespie, M.D., is a retired physician and member of the Albany-Dougherty Aviation Commission, the governing body for Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in Albany.