Dave Montiverdi: Reasons why both Worcester and Boston-area residents SHOULD look into choosing Worcester when booking your first trip after COVID


            Times are changing, and for the first time in over two decades (this is important to remember) there’s finally decent connecting service between Worcester and two of the three major NYC airports. Finally there is an airport right next door that, with a quick 30-minute flight and short layover, puts the world at Worcester’s doorstep. With Boston traffic infamously becoming arguably worst in the nation, the insane cost/hassle for local residents to fly out of Boston and still being 30-60 minutes (on a good day) away from your house – there hasn’t been a better time to give Worcester a chance next time you travel, regardless of the nature of your trip! Whether you’re traveling to LA for business or visiting family in North Carolina for the holidays, the service has never been this convenient and reliable out of ORH.

            Just before the pandemic, despite less-than-stellar times and very limited options, Worcester was beginning to catch its stride a bit. American, who launched service and almost immediately had to pull back, was in the 70-80% load range to Philly while JFK, with only one flight a day, was growing from historically awful to the 50-70% range. Let’s take a look at what’s changed since airlines have returned to ORH:

·         JetBlue drops MCO, but adds second JFK flight. For years, Worcester has proven if they can support anything, its service to Florida. Any aviation professional will point out that the Worcester market can, at minimum, sustain a seasonal daily Fort Myers flight if given the opportunity. We saw what happened last time airlines tried to force service during a time of rising gas prices. The yield per seat to Florida is only going to decline in the coming years, meaning less leeway for load factors and higher fares for travelers. Do you also remember the number one complaint for years with the MCO service? Inconvenient times, no one wants to get to Disney at 10 PM.

 

The major drawback to JFK was the massive gap between flights that only accessed maybe 25-50% of the total reachable route map out of Kennedy. With the second JFK flight, you can leave at far more convenient times (plural!) and transfer onto JetBlue’s A321 mint product – widely regarded as the best in-flight product available to US travelers, and at a cheaper price than if offered direct. Also, let’s not forget, JetBlue’s Embraer 190 aircraft are CAT III-autoland capable and will land in any visibility. In due time, this flight will grow to be the premier consistent service available out of ORH. Point-to-point flying is getting increasingly less convenient and considerably pricier, it’s becoming better to have one option you can always rely on no matter where you want to go.

 

There is one minor drawback at the moment as the morning departure leaves a little too late, with an 8 AM arrival in New York City you aren’t able to touch the busy 630-8 AM departure bank that features mint service to the west coast and Caribbean. But, there are still reasonable options in the early morning and in due time the flight moves up a bit. You’re also able to book through to an American flight with their NEA they signed in the early stages of the pandemic.

 

·         Delta returns with LGA over DTW. Another very solid adjustment to the portfolio of service out of Worcester, Delta’s 4 PM turn flight gives 3 different time options to NYC. While it’s common amongst New Yorkers to joke about the accessibility of LGA (similarly to the way “Massholes” complain about Logan being landlocked by congested highways), transferring at LGA is just the opposite as in terms of land size it is actually smaller than Worcester.

 

Right now, the service appears to only be six days a week with no flights available on Saturdays. But, as this is brand new service on CAT II CRJ-900 aircraft (not quite CAT III autoland, but damn near close) this will likely become daily quicker than you think. It is an infinitely better experience than the 50-seater runs to Detroit we saw before. I expect as Detroit was almost exclusively a transfer-only option that LaGuardia will grow over time with a healthy mix of travelers and return to the reliable service we saw when US Airways last flew it almost 20 years ago on Dash 8s.

 

·         American returns with Philly. Have to say, I also love this. It is a unique flight time, but clicking through the website the numbers aren’t all that bad – especially in a time where business travel has never been lower. The business traveler will be back; even the biggest industry skeptics are admitting to “Zoom fatigue” and the need to return to normal across all industries. This is yet another 30-60 minute flight that puts you one quick stop from unlimited, reliable options with American’s hub in Philadelphia.

The key to Worcester coming out of the pandemic is both Massport and the airlines staying committed and letting these markets mature as travel rebounds. Worcester was not going to grow with the options they had before, and the nature of these adjustments is irrelevant. Sure, if Delta doesn’t use their LGA slots they are going to lose them. Same can be said for JetBlue at JFK. But, without question, travel is not going to 100% return to where it was before. Detroit may never be the transfer hub it was before. There is no reason to believe this new range of service is not here to stay.

People would say ORH’s catchment extends to I-495, but I personally believe that’s rather limiting. I would bet that if people in-between I-495 and I-95 were made aware of the advantages of flying out of ORH opposed to BOS, a significant number of residents will give Worcester a chance instead of traveling the other way for over 50% the total cost of travel (important enough to generate support long-term service but not so significant that there is noticeable leakage from Logan’s pockets). The biggest problem of all is that over the past twenty years, people have become engrained to going well out of their way to fly Logan or PVD/BDL. It will be interesting to see how Massport looks to solve this problem moving forward.

 

Dave Montiverdi

Airport Operations Supervisor, Westchester County Airport (White Plains, NY)

Long-time Worcester resident, current aviation professional and frequent user of the JFK shuttle.

 

 


 

Comments

Gary Samela said…
This all makes perfect sense except for the fact that almost no one wants to fly out of Worcester Airport. Another pipe dream that will almost certainly end in failure.

I guess you haven't seen what's been happening the last 30 years at the airport. With Logan, Green, Manchester and Bradley only about one hour away there really is no need for a commercial airport in Worcester.

Massport's investment of $100 million at the airport will go down as one of the biggest boondoggles in our state.

If capacity and traffic issues are such a problem at Logan then why is Delta going to add close to 100 more daily flights there in the next 2-3 years? Wouldn't you think they would throw 10 flights our way?

I didn't think it was possible, but your're even more delusional than our friend Bill.
Dave M said…
Hi Gary,

Thank you for your well-thought comments and continuing to contribute to the blog (despite our delusion). Respectfully, here is my response.

1) It makes no business sense to drop 10 daily flights on a market you haven't been in for almost two decades. You should know it doesn't work like that. A client base has to develop in a new market.
2) As you mentioned, Worcester is well positioned between four medium-sized cities and "only an hour" from a metro-area of eight million people. MHT, over the past 10 years, has lost over half their passenger volume falling from the 25 or so daily flights with Southwest to only a handful (their new carrier Spirit, however, will likely do well there). I'm sorry you look at this in a negative context instead of recognizing the market potential, but that's what separates people successful in business. I wish there were more people who think like you and just give up!
3) Are you implying there are no capacity problems and that Logan is easily accessible? The airport was considering people-movers at one point in time because they were projected to blow well over their designed capacity.
4) The way you present this information is intentionally misleading. Most of those flights are restoration of service as Delta rebounds from COVID-19. If anything, this factors more into my point that Delta and JetBlue have been actively competing with each other for years. This dynamic is actually critical as both look to expand to where they were at Logan through Massport by leveraging additional efforts at ORH. You are aware that Delta pulled out of MHT completely, correct?

I failed to mention the booming population along the I-495 corridor extending out to Worcester. Viewing this service so short-sighted is extremely naïve. I mentioned in my post the long-term position on ORH should be to remain a reliable option (which it now is, unlike Pre-COVID) as the continues to grow for years to come. What you should take away from what I said is that the performance of this flight over the next year or two is not specific analytics such as load factors and throughput but instead developing a market.

As gas prices rise, thin routes on the long-end in duration will decrease and, as a result, so will point-to-point flying. Airports that rely on PTP flying almost exclusively, like SWF, TTN, and exactly how ORH was structured before will be subject to these effects. This is how the connecting traveler will come back, unfortunately. I'd like to also point out that for today, 11/5 Logan is down 35% and JFK 38% of where they were on 11/5/19.

I look forward to your response.
Gary Samela said…
I think I remember that AA significantly cut back service at ORH before the pandemic (when the economy was booming).
I respect your comments, but I've been hearing the same crap from people like you for over 30 years. The airport had its best passenger loads when the City was running it.

How are people supposed to know about any new flight options at our airport? Massport and the airlines haven't been willing to invest the type of marketing money necessary for such service to thrive.

I'm leaving for the Bahamas in about 12 hours. The same price and short layover were available from our airport. I just can't take the risk of being stuck in Worcester without any further flights available.

I'm not sure why it's so inconvenient to fly out of Logan. The airport van will get me there in about 50 minutes. They bring me right to the terminal. It's $140 both ways and I give them a $10 tip.
Gary Samela said…
Are you aware of the major security breaches that occurred at our airport? First, some whack job stole a fuel truck and tried to drive it into the terminal. Then, one of airport's employees was able to get a loaded gun inside the perimeter and blow his brains out. You think I want to take my elderly mother or my grandchildren to a place like that? Would that happen at your airport?
Dave M said…
Gary,

I do see your points, but I encourage you to realize this is a problem not specific to ORH. Massport and the security department employed at the airport are subject to the same rules and regulations that are all other commercial service airports under TSR 1542, which includes rigorous continual compliance tests and audits. The State Police, who are there 24/7/365, performs fingerprint analysis and background checks on all prospective employees, and within the past couple years relieve the security department of their firefighting responsibilities.

As for your second part, we did unfortunately have a breach in security this year. So did Newark and LaGuardia, which if you look up in the news had a significant impact in operations. Despite meeting and exceeding security standards, the insider threat will never completely diminish.

I of course respect your decision, but if these extremely remote possibilities, present at all airports, are what's keeping you from choosing ORH to fly I'd just like for you to have the facts.
Dave M said…
In regards to your first post, I've dealt with people like you fixated on the past for the past two decades as well. Forgive me for realizing the future is far different than the past, for example do you think the City would have leveraged JetBlue in? The answer is no. They tried, and failed. Multiple times.

I am not arguing the past debacles. I'm not even arguing that you will be wrong at the end of all this. Believe it or not, I am with you on Pre-COVID. American pulled back service, but ultimately the had been charging over twice what other area airports were charging for the same exact service. Airlines seemed to only be interested in doing the bare minimum (JetBlue included). But, what's important, is regardless of their nature ORH is finally in a position they haven't been in for twenty years. There is reliable service that can operate down to CAT III zero-visibility, and since the ILS has gone live has just done that multiple times without issue.

Each person values something different when it comes to organization. It seems to me like these irrational ideas which are just rooted in bias against the airport and are keeping you from saving that $140 (I'm not even going to get into base fares looking through future bookings...like I mentioned, point to point is going to continue to become expensive. Transferring through JFK looks like will already save close to 100 dollars round-trip opposed to direct out of Logan, and on a far superior product).

Had you chosen to connect through JFK this morning, both the ORH departure and 8:25 departure on an A320 out of JFK left on time, scheduled to arrive before noon. Meanwhile, you're waiting to board a far less comfortable aircraft that departs at 10 AM and gets in the afternoon. To each their own, it's nice of you to tip though.
Anonymous said…
Another big difference from the past involves the lack of an “access road” to the airport.

In the past it was certainly a much bigger deal navigating through Worcester, especially when school buses are rolling.

Now, you use Waze and it guides you right there, right aroundtraffic backups and tells you exactly when you will arrive.

Completely different calculation to the access road issue.

And that Logan direct access? That doesn’t seem like such a solution when you are stuck in the tunnel.
Gary Samela said…
After experiencing the long TSA lines and the long walking distances to the various gates, I'm willing to give our airport a try for my next trip. The airport down here in the Bahamas is a little larger version of WRA. Everything very organized and wait times at a minimum.
Anonymous said…
Re;Why people SHOULD use ORH
All of the reasons cited are logical, rational, and justified. BUT, (in police lingo) ORH has acquired STINK, and folks seem to avoid using it for that irrational reason. Only thing to combat this, in my opinion, is the passage of (lots of) time.