Aug. 22--American Airlines launched an expanded Montgomery flight on Monday. Meanwhile, a line of Uber cars waited outside the terminal for arriving passengers, a few days after the ride sharing company struck a deal to provide pickup service there.
One airport official said the changes were promising, especially the timing of the Uber deal. A massive Air Force technology conference comes to Montgomery next weekend.
"It really behooves us that this Uber agreement is in place and ready to go, not just for this conference but as the next step in improving our passenger experience," said Chip Gentry, vice president of air service development for Montgomery Regional Airport. "A lot of business travelers, we're learning, are not allowed to use cabs. They have corporate agreements with Uber."
Uber drivers have been responding to "e-hails" by passengers across the Capital City for months, but airports have to work out separate deals. Now, those drivers have a designated waiting area at the Montgomery airport, just like taxis.
They're close enough to the terminal -- about 200 feet -- that Gentry recommends passengers wait until they get off the plane and into the airport or the baggage claim area before logging onto the Uber app and hailing a ride. Of course, taxis are still there too, often offering a more professional ride. And they take different forms of payment.
"It's going to be very interesting to see what happens," Gentry said.
At the same time, American Airlines has expanded to a 76-seat plane with Wi-Fi for two of its three Montgomery-to-Dallas flights. That's a change triggered in part by American's co-chair agreement with Korean Air.
"This way, with the large demand of the Korean community and the businesses, you're flowing west-bound to head on to the Far East," Gentry said.
Passenger traffic was down 4 percent year-over-year in July in Montgomery, but it wasn't the only airport seeing fewer travelers. A pilot shortage has led to airlines cutting back flights nationwide, meaning fewer passengers overall, Gentry said.
"We have fewer flights, but we're filling the aircraft up," he said.
It's been a busy week for the airport, planes aside. Longtime executive director Phil Perry announced last week that he's retiring at the end of the year, and Gentry said the airport's administrators already have "wheels in motion" to find his replacement.
At the same time, they're working on replacing a Subway that left the terminal this year, exploring upgrades to the terminal's Wi-Fi and looking at options for new charging stations, among other changes.
They also had a recent visit from an airline that doesn't currently provide service to Montgomery. Gentry said "they were very interested" in the city but there are other airports in the running for expanded service and it's all still up in the air.
"We're in the same boat with capacity as about 70 percent of the airports across the country, especially airports our size," Gentry said. "That's why this recent visit is very important to us. Maybe we have to go outside our partners to bring in new service."
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