EXCLUSIVE: DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg to Look into United Airlines Leaving Erie International Airport
WASHINGTON, D.C. - A couple of months ago, United Airlines abruptly announced they were stopping service to Erie International Airport. This announcement was a shock to the airport and to the community. Airlines stopping services at airports is an issue that is not unique to Erie, but something happening in other parts of the country. Erie News Now brought this issue to the Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
“We have passengers but we don’t have seats and that’s the challenge we’re dealing with,” said Derek Martin, the Erie International Airport Executive Director. “We have people wanting to use the airport. The planes are going out full.”
Martin said business and educational opportunities brings in people from all over the world to Erie but like many airports across the US, the COVID pandemic impacted the industry.
“The global pandemic was tough on aviation because they got rid of too many pilots and then the cost of pilots have gone up dramatically because they got rid of too many,” said Martin.
While Erie doesn’t get the same amount of travelers like Philadelphia, Martin said the travel demand for Erie is still high. However, in early March, United Airlines announced their departure from Erie beginning in June. In a brief statement, United cited their departure from Erie after “careful analysis of operations and market demand”.
“We were surprised because the airport was operating at a 90 percent load factor,” said Martin. “90 percent of our seats were full when united announced their service departure.”
The announcement also took place after millions have been invested into improving the airport. We brought this issue to the Department of Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg.
“Well, having been a mayor of a smaller city in the industrial Midwest, I know firsthand how important these smaller airports can be,” said Buttigieg. “It's one of the reasons why we're funding improvements at airports of all sizes, not just the JFK and the LAX airports of the world, but smaller airports like the ones you see in the region where I come from like airports are the size of Erie's airport as well. I'm concerned any time I see that an airline is withdrawing service, we're making clear to airlines that we're looking for them to provide more, not less, especially to these smaller communities. Raising the bar on customer service so that you don't see the kind of cherry picking that leaves some customers or passengers behind, only having to some of the lower service options to choose from.”
While Buttigieg said he can’t control the airlines, the DOT pushes them to do the right thing. Erie News Now asked Buttigieg if he would consider encouraging United to continue their service in Erie.
“Yeah, certainly to look more into what's happening with Erie and making sure United and other airlines understand our expectation that they provide good service to communities of all sizes,” said Buttigieg.
Martin is reassuring the community they’re doing everything they can to keep up with demand and bring people as well as business to Erie.