By Tom Mazza
On September 11th, life as we know it in America changed. Thousands of innocent lives were lost in a series of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. An entire country was thrust into a state of prolonged, collective mourning.
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. Every limousine company in the country that had a decent airport transfer business found that they had temporarily become an upscale Greyhound Bus service.
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 their flight schedule. Other airlines will certainly follow.
The airline industry as a whole is looking for a federal bailout.
Heightened security quickly doubled and in some cases tripled the amount of time a traveler spends in the airport between check in and take off. The increased security coupled with the airlines already falling on-time performance record are especially frustrating to business travelers.
Something else happened in the aftermath of September 11. Companies large and small who 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 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. Assuming he lives within 30 miles of Logan Airport, the traveler?s company will fork over 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 $100 on each end of his trip. The grand total for transportation is $780 for the roundtrip.
A sedan taking the businessman directly from Boston to Midtown would be about $800 for the roundtrip (Approximately $400 on each end). That is about the same cost. But add in a second traveler from the same company, 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 half-hours by car. US Airways, which has 65 percent of the gates in Philly 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 in $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 sedan service between the cities would be about $575 each way total 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.
The US Airways shuttle departs Logan Airport on the hour at 6, 7, 8 and 9 a.m. headed for New York?s LaGuardia Airport. 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. but factoring in that it was late more than 60 percent of the time in 2000, let?s assume it arrives at 7:45 a.m. La Guardia Airport is at least an hour from midtown Manhattan possibly more at rush hour.
Figuring arrival at 9 a.m., that is 4.5 hours door to door. Figuring that the return trip will probably be a little bit quicker, it still represents at least eight 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 about the same time as the shuttle passenger.
New York City is about 225 miles from our nation?s capital. That is between four and four and half-hours 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 again 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. It was on time in 2000 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 5 hours door to door by air and about another half-hour or so when using a hired vehicle.
The third factor is the emotional and physical comfort of the passenger. A luxury limousine company?s client has plenty of room in a big comfortable seat. They can work in the back on a laptop or dial away on their cell phones without interruption.
Passengers traveling with their colleagues get an opportunity to get to know each other in a low stress environment away from the office. They are naturally going to be more relaxed and productive. There is no running to the gate or unexpected delays. (Other than normal traffic jams) It is even possible to conduct meetings or work around a conference table in a luxury van or mini-coach.
In the aftermath of September 11, business travelers (and all travelers) are fearful. The 10 percent who count themselves as ?fearful fliers? will probably stay completely away from the airport. For many travelers, transportation in a chauffeured vehicle will provide tremendous emotional comfort.