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.

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

  1. Christophe says:

    I just looked at their online Schedule. With only one to four flights per week to many destination, i don’t even see how they can promote themselves as a hub !!!…

  2. Sanjeev M says:

    In that case, I think US Airways can still call PIT a hub and AA can call RDU a hub. Or infact nearly all Southwest stations (except CRP) would be hubs.

    This is going the way of Independence Air. Vision needs to stay with charter ops.

  3. Brett- you could write a whole article on the confusing array of airports in the Panama City/Ft. Walton Beach/Destin area. Add in Pensacola-PNS and you have even more. There are two “Northwest Florida” airports within 60 miles of each other (Northwest Florida Beaches-ECP) and (Northwest Florida Regional-VPS). VPS is aka Ft Walton Beach/Destin aka Valpariso aka Eglin AFB aka Okaloosa County Regional Airport. ECP is the new airport in the Panama City area that replaced the old Panama City-Bay County International Airport-PFN that is still physically there but closed and soon to be demolished. As your CC client found out there are many smaller general aviation airports in this area like Destin Airport-DTS. My daughter lives in this area and usually looks at all three airports when comparing fares. It is confusing.

    As far as Vision Airlines goes-good luck. I don’t see this model being very viable in the long run.

    • CF says:

      You’re not kidding. This is probably the most confusing spot in the country for airports, and the fact that they keep changing their names makes it so much worse. That’s why you would hope that any airline operating into this area would try to be as clear as possible about which airport they use.

  4. mike says:

    A hub that when you want to fly from VPS to FLL routes you through SDF. Bad. Just B A D. Heck I liked Skybus better than this mess.

  5. They said a new schedule for connections would start June 1 so they must be planning on more service in some markets instead of the two or three flights a week now.

    I never understood why they have been calling it Destin which I never heard of until they came along. I’ve always known it as Ft Walton Beach, but maybe people on the east coast know it as Destin.

    I know if someone said to me “Let’s go to Destin Florida for a vacation” I’d say where is that. But if they say Ft Walton Beach I would say sure as I know where that’s at.

    I think I said somewhere before that the city of Destin must have paid them a lot of money to start this venture there so they are forced to use Destin before saying Ft Walton Beach.

    • CF says:

      I believe that Destin is a pretty popular resort area from a regional perspective, so that’s why it makes sense. Those of us who don’t live in the southeast know nothing about it, but that’s not the target in this market anyway.

  6. Someone also forgot to tell vision that the south corner of the country is a poor spot to put a hub, as it forces folks to fly more..

    Why would you want to go south from Atlanta to go north to Louisville?

    • Ace says:

      Just as crazy to go north from KVPS to KATL to access the rest of Florida or the southeast.

      There are a lot of moneyed retirees living along the Emerald Coast who appreciate not connecting through Atlanta every time they leave the area.

      Cranky’s complaint about the alleged misunderstandings of airports is spurious. KDTS is a GA airport unable to support Part 121 carrier operations. KVPS (AKA Eglin Air Force Base) is a joint use military/civilian airport and has been since the ’60s. It was a SAC base back then and has 12,000 ft runways. KVPS boasts a newly revamped pax terminal which is state of the art.

      Yes, the resort town of Destin is about 40 minutes away by car but I don’t see that as a deal killer.

      I think Vision has found a niche here.

      • I strongly disagree that the airport naming conventions are not confusing. CF’s point was that if one looks up “destin/fort walton beach airport” online, the DTS airport is so prominent that it could easily be confused for the “northwest florida regional airport” that is VPS. This is not the fault of VPS, it is the fault of Vision for referring to VPS as such. Not everybody knows every airport code, especially the tourists and occasional travelers who are likely to be looking for this airport in the first place.

      • CF says:

        Ace – Clearly you know airports since you use a lot of airport-speak in your post. But try to think of this from the perspective of the more common traveler based in the area who might use this service.

        This is a big military town, and families in the area are probably thrilled to have the chance to use cheap flights to get out. Many of these families won’t have been in the area for very long – military people tend to be transient. So this isn’t a long-established community.

        In addition, there are a ton of airports in the general vicinity, so it’s not very far-fetched to expect someone to just type the airport name into Google to find out where to go. That points people to Destin and people are bound to go to the wrong place.

        Now, I’m in no way suggesting that flying to VPS is a problem. It’s simply the way that the airport is named on the Vision site that’s the issue.

  7. P.K. Taylor says:

    I have flown on Vision Airlines 4 times now and must stay that each time has been an absolute joy!. Low fares, on-time and crews that are happy to be doing what they do. By the looks of their full 737’s and Dornier 328’s they surely seem to be doing something right.

  8. DAB says:

    One problem with using VPS as a hub is that (at least in the past) scheduled times in and out of VPS had little to do with runway use. If Eglin decided to have 200 planes from the AFB take off ahead of the next flight out of VPS (they were more accomodative to landings…) the airplane from VPS sat and if you were lucky you could watch the line of other planes leaving depending on your plane’s positioning… I was only ever delayed fifteen or twenty minutes on one of the flights I took from there, but an hour was certainly not unheard of.

  9. LOL, I’m not saying Cranky ripped me off in this post but my rant on USA Today’s Today in the Sky blog last week seemed very relevant to this topic! :-)

    Bill from DC
    1:10 PM on May 18, 2011

    interestingly, the drive from VPS to destin is at least a half hour. sigh… just another chapter in the book of poorly named north florida airports:

    1) VPS – official airport name is “northwest florida regional airport” – located in valparaiso, florida on eglin AFB – referred to as “fort walton beach/destin” and “destin/fort walton beach” even though (a) it is 26 minutes from destin and (b) there is actually an airport named “destin/fort walton beach airport” (DSI/DTS) located in, you guessed it, destin!

    2) ECP – official airport name is “northwest florida beaches international airport” which looks VERY familiar to the official name in (1) above – technically located in panama city beach and referred to as “panama city” even though (a) it is 28 minutes (20 miles) from panama city beach and 33 minutes from panama city and (b) the “panama city bay county airport” (PFN), which used to have the commercial service now located at ECP, remains in, you guessed it, panama city!

    fortunately, the airports in pensacola (PNS) and tallahassee (TLH) are actually located in pensacola and tallahassee! what a novel idea! please note that all driving times and distances used in my comment were from google maps.

  10. With all the talk about a confusing name, I wonder how many people who use Allegiant which says Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona actually go to PHX-Sky Harbor looking for Allegiant instead of driving to the AZA-Mesa Gateway airport. It’s all the same metro area, but people would automaticly go to Sky Harbor if they didn’t pay attention that Phoenix-Mesa is not just a general area being talked about, but Allegiants way of saying they fly to/from the Phoenix area, but use the airport in the city of Mesa.

    • Jim says:

      That’s actually very common in the US. Manchester-Boston, LA/Ontario, etc. Many smaller airports name themselves after the big city in order to market themselves as an alternative to that airport.

      • That’s also an old trick popularized by Ryanair. Your ticket lists the name of a big city like Frankfurt or Brussels, but the plane actually arrives into an abandoned military base in Hahn or Charleroi, which is upwards of two hours driving time from your intended destination, and where the terminal is little more than a double-wide plunked down in a parking lot.

  11. Loves2Fly says:

    I actually missed a flight through Vision as well. They sent me the wrong information via email. Ending result, it actually cost me more to get to my destination. At this point, it is worth the money and my time to fly with a REPUTABLE airline. Vision is extremely misleading. FLYERS BEWARE!!!

    • bob says:

      Are you SURE their email was wrong? Maybe YOU were wrong. In any event, Vision is reputable. Why do people like you have to down a company for trying to find a niche and doing it right? By all means, don’t fly with them, I am sure they would rather you didn’t

  12. Stef says:

    “You might not think this makes any sense”

    … Well in that respect nothing has changed, really. None of the airline fees ever made sense to me.

  13. Smail says:

    We’ve been “blessed” with Vision Airlines here in Baton Rouge. They’ve recently announced n/s service to Vegas, and one-stop service to Tunica. I’ll be interested to see if they start building up these “scheduled gambling charters” in other cities or not.

  14. Johnie says:

    Cranky Flyer is just that some cranky old guy who never could get hired by the airlines so he disssssssssssss all new carriers and only in support of the same old mainline carriers with high fares, no meal service and baggage fees up the you know what. Vision Airlines might be this or that, but one thing for sure they are organized, upbeat and willing to try something new and different. Not like the cranky old man that complains about anything and everything. jj

  15. Let the cancels begin. Vision put out a press release today saying they will drop cities.

    ””’Vision Airlines has made the decision to discontinue service to a few cities where the demand has not met the company’s expectations. Vision Airlines plans to cut service to the following cities effective July 17; Huntsville, Savannah, Columbia, Greenville/Spartanburg and Baton Rouge. Vision Airlines plans to add additional cities to the winter schedule and increase frequency to many of its destinations.”””””

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