The limousine industry, like many other industries, was directly affected by the terrorist attacks. Millions of airline passengers were immediately stranded for more than three full days because of the unprecedented shutdown of the entire United States commercial airline system. Operators across the country quickly began transporting passengers hundreds, even thousands of miles across state lines. Jeff Greene, president of Greene Classic Limousine in Atlanta, told a familiar story. “We had vehicles in Philadelphia, Washington and the Midwest. It was amazing.”
When the planes started flying again, the airline industry faced an immediate crisis. Midway Airlines went out of business. United and American Airlines cut their flight schedules. Continental Airlines immediately laid off 12,000 employees and eliminated 20 percent of its flight schedule. US Airways gave 11,000 workers the pink slip and reduced its flight schedule by 25 percent. The airline industry as a whole is depending on a federal bailout.
Heightened security quickly doubled, and in some cases, tripled the amount of time that travelers spend in the airport between check-in and takeoff. The increased security eliminated both curbside check-in and many of the prime parking spaces across the board.
Something else happened in the aftermath of September 11. Companies large and small that spend big money on executive travel learned three things:
1. It may be faster and more economical to use chauffeured ground transportation for business trips that are 300 miles or less or approximately five hours (driving time) away.
2. Many business travelers, who are already stressed out about flying, are now afraid for their personal safety and wish to avoid air travel.
3. Business travelers, especially those who are traveling with their colleagues, prefer the comfort and convenience of chauffeured transportation.
The cost factor is the first consideration. A Boston-based business traveler would typically spend $405 for a roundtrip ticket on the US Airways shuttle to New York’s La Guardia Airport (see chart on Page 35). Assuming he lives within 30 miles of Logan Airport, the traveler’s company will pay another $175 for sedan transportation to and from the Boston airport. Let’s assume the traveler uses a New York-based executive sedan service that will charge him or her $100 on each end of his trip. The grand total for transportation is $780 roundtrip. A sedan taking the business traveler directly from Boston to Midtown would be about $800 for the roundtrip. That is about the same cost. But add in a second traveler from the same company, and ground transportation is at least $300 cheaper. A third traveler on the Boston-New York trip makes it much cheaper to go by ground. Any type of group going by van, stretch limousine or mini-coach would produce significant savings.
When you look at the cost of a longer trip, the numbers are comparable. It is 300 miles from Boston to Philadelphia or about five and a half-hours by car. US Airways, which has 65 percent of the gates in Philadelphia International Airport, charges between $489 and $675 for a ticket purchased less than two weeks before travel, and not involving a Saturday stay. So let’s say the ticket is $550. Add $150 for local sedan service and another $200 for Boston-based service, and you end up with $900 in transportation costs.
King Limousine, the largest local limousine company in the Philadelphia area, estimates that sedan service between the cities would be about $575 each way or $1,150 roundtrip. That’s $250 more to travel by ground, but again, a second passenger makes it at least $350 cheaper to go by ground.
The second consideration is the time factor. For example, the US Airways shuttle departs Logan Airport on the hour at 6, 7, 8 and 9 a.m. headed for New York’s La Guardia Airport. So in order to catch the 7 a.m. shuttle, with the new airport regulations, means the business traveler needs a 4:30 a.m. pickup in Newton, Mass. The shuttle is scheduled to arrive in New York at 7:16 a.m. However, factor in that it was late more than 60 percent of the time in 2000, and let’s assume it arrives at 7:45 a.m. LaGuardia Airport is at least an hour from midtown Manhattan, possibly more at rush hour. You figure the arrival at 9 a.m. That is five hours door to door. Assuming that the return trip will probably be a little bit quicker, it still represents at least nine hours of total travel time.
Downtown Boston to midtown Manhattan is about 210 miles apart or a little less than four hours by ground. A vehicle leaving Newton at 4:30 a.m. would arrive in midtown Manhattan at around 8:30 or even 9 a.m., significantly earlier than the shuttle passenger.
Larry White, president of American Livery in suburban Boston, says that ground transportation is even quicker. “We can get from Boston to midtown in less than four hours. My customers who use the shuttle to New York tell me they get caught in traffic when they arrive in New York. Remember, our customers don’t, for the most part, live in downtown Boston. So if we pick them up in the Boston suburbs and head to New York, they avoid one big city traffic jam.”
Paul Altman, co-owner of Altman-Hines Limousine Service in Chicago, says that longer-haul trips for limousine companies make just as much sense in the Midwest.
“We can get a vehicle from Chicago to Indianapolis in two and a half to three hours, no problem,” Altman says. “It’s an easy ride and very relaxing for the customer. If you have to be at O’Hare Airport two hours before flight time, that makes it a much longer trip by air.”
Altman, whose company brought passengers to New York and Philadelphia during the immediate aftermath of September 11, believes the longer charters will be a bigger part of his business in the future. “It just makes sense to use this service. It’s faster and more economical, and I find that my customers are very smart people who see the value.”
New York City is about 225 miles from our nation’s capital. That is between four and four and half hours of driving. If you live in Rockville, Md., you can get on the shuttle at around 7:30 a.m. You will probably get picked up around 5 a.m. with the increased security at BWI Airport. You are scheduled to arrive at 9 a.m., but JFK airport is at least 45 minutes from midtown. So any way you figure it, the shuttle passenger has a five-hour window from his home to his meeting.
You can catch a 7:30 flight from Philadelphia International, which would involve a 5 a.m. pickup in, say, Villanova. That flight is scheduled to arrive at Logan Airport in Boston by 9 a.m. In 2000 it was on time less than 50 percent of the time. So let’s figure a 9:30 arrival. Without luggage and figuring only moderate delays in the tunnel, you should be at your meeting on Commonwealth Ave. by 10 a.m. That’s about five hours door-to-door by air and about another half-hour or so when using a hired vehicle.
The third factor is the ...
For more on this topic, check out the November issue of LCT magazine.