Someone Forgot to Tell Vision Airlines that Small Hubs Don’t Work

Delta’s Memphis cuts have once again stirred up a lot of talk about the death of the mid-size hub. It’s effectively conventional wisdom at this point, but apparently someone forgot to tell Vision. Vision has now decided to make little Destin a hub. Uh oh.

I should, however, point out that it’s not actually Destin that’s the hub. When you go the Vision website, it shows Destin/Ft Walton Beach, FL (VPS) as the airport. Now, try typing Destin/Ft Walton Beach airport into Google Maps and it will take you to an airport right near town. The only problem? That’s not the right airport. Those of us who know airport codes can look at VPS and see that it’s actually 20 miles away over a bridge to the Northwest Florida Regional Airport, but I can’t imagine that many travelers know to look at the airport code.

When Destin Airport Isn't Destin Airport

In fact, we have a concierge client now who went to the wrong airport for her flight, then rushed over to the other airport, only to miss it. So if you do actually decide to use this airline, please keep in mind that it’s not the Destin airport. Of course, if you’re using it as a hub, then you don’t care because you’ll never step foot outside the terminal.

So what does it mean that Vision is turning this into a hub? It really just means that the airline is going to start allowing connections. Many of the ultra low cost carriers out there only let you buy point-to-point flights. On Allegiant, for example, you could buy a ticket from Long Beach to Las Vegas and then on to any city in the system, but Allegiant doesn’t allow it. Why? It’s a cost thing. When you start setting up connecting complexes, you need to have the ability to transfer bags. That’s an investment and it will inevitably result in more lost bags. You also have to take responsibility for people when they miss their connections due to late operations, etc. It just adds complexity. And what do you get? For a low cost airline, not much.

So on Allegiant, you can make a connection yourself if you want, but you’ll have to buy two separate tickets and re-check your bags. Vision was that way for the first few weeks of its life, but no more.

Vision’s Chief Operating Officer David Meers touted how many opportunities this opens up:

For example, the Atlanta passenger could only travel to Louisville, Destin or Gulfport prior to this announcement. Now, the Atlanta passenger can travel to 14 different destinations including Ft. Lauderdale, St. Petersburg/Tampa and Las Vegas.

So now instead of taking one of the 11 daily nonstops on AirTran or Delta from Atlanta to Vegas or one of many connecting options on any other airline, Vision wants to jump into that race. The only way it will take passengers is if its fares are so incredibly cheap that some people will be willing to try the airline. If you have empty seats, that’s fine, but its not going to add much to the bottom line.

That’s why Allegiant doesn’t allow connections. It picks routes that have enough local demand so that it can fill its airplanes with desirable local traffic. That’s smart. Vision’s quick decision to allow connections tells me that there simply isn’t enough demand to fill its airplanes and it’s scrambling to fill those seats, even if it is with rock bottom fares. This is not the best sign for the fledgling Destin hub.

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