The ongoing effort to attract a low-cost airline to Tallahassee ramped up again Thursday. The target is Jet Blue and the bait is a pledge to buy millions of dollars of flight tickets before the first plane even lands.
Tallahassee marketing maven Ron Sachs outlined the plan at a City Hall news event Wednesday morning.
“Members of this community, individuals, families, companies, non-profits, government agencies, make a pledge to purchase tickets over a two-year period that will total $1 million by the end of this month,” Sachs told reporters. “That pledge over a two-year period is what we hope to persuade Jet Blue executives to make this a connection in their travel network.”
Jet Blue is a low-cost New York-based carrier and the fifth largest U-S airline. Chris Curry, Tallahassee’s Aviation Director, said it will take more than the standard motivators to bring Jet Blue to Florida’s Capital City.
“We typically do normal airport incentives, such as waiver of landing fees, terminal rents, and marketing support,” Curry said. “But it’s very important to the airlines for the communities to demonstrate how businesses will support air service.”
And when it comes to local businesses, the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce’s Sue Dick is the pre-eminent spokesperson.
“Our over 1400 members have said how important it is for them to move and travel in and out of Tallahassee. They call Tallahassee home, but they’re committed to growing our business community and the ability to travel, bring their clients in and out and grow their businesses is key.”
Surveys show the number one destination for Tallahassee air travelers is actually South Florida. And Chamber Board Chair Kathy Bell explained that’s where Jet Blue can fill a huge air service gap.
“It will give us direct access to Fort Lauderdale,” Bell said. “It will give us one-stop access to the two other most-flown connections, which are New York and D.C. and also open up exciting destinations like Boston and L.A. and San Francisco.”
Remember at the start of this story when Ron Sachs said the pledge goal was $1 million? That changed unexpectedly right in the middle of Wednesday’s media event. Liz Eggert Hirst, senior advisor to Florida State University President John Thrasher, dropped the bombshell that the university was kicking in a $1 million pledge for the campaign.
“We certainly encourage the rest of the community to get involved, because this will do great things for the city of Tallahassee,” she said after making the announcement.
So now the two-million dollar question is: will the campaign work? City Commissioner Scott Maddox thinks it will.
“I’ve met with the top folks who make decisions like this on what routes they’ll take on in a year (and) I think we’re going to be successful,” Maddox said, pointing out that he and Aviation Director Curry had made several trips to Jet Blue’s Long Island City corporate headquarters. “The question is when? What’s key to this is community support. We want them to see that Tallahassee is ready to fly their aircraft and if they make the commitment to us, we’ll make the commitment to them.”
And, particularly for those local air travelers who have typically driven to places like Jacksonville, Panama City and even Valdosta in search of cheaper flights, it will surely be a significant saving of time and money.