Air Service in Chico – Promote

In my previous post, “Air Service in Chico – Preserve“, I stressed the importance of retaining the flights we already have to San Francisco.

Essential to retaining that service, and with some luck getting United to add frequency to San Francisco, is taking steps to actively promote the existing service.

First, three anecdotes that comprise my purely personal experience about the promotion of Chico air service since I moved to Chico in 1998.

– I have never once in 15 years seen an advertisement in the Enterprise-Record or the News & Review by United Airlines (I don’t watch TV or listen to local commercial radio so maybe they’ve run ads there.)

– I have never once in 15 years seen a local event where United Airlines donated tickets to a drawing or fundraiser

– When I was the marketing director for the Chico Running Club’s two big events between 2001 and 2006, I approached United Airlines about contributing tickets to a raffle of travel prizes for the Bidwell Classic Half Marathon.  I never received a reply, not even to say “no”.  Hearing nothing from the only airline serving Chico, I contacted Horizon Air which then served Redding, and they quickly agreed.  For many years they continued to support the race by contributing two tickets to the raffle drawing.  (That was the closest in the past 15 years that Chico came to seeing another airline: I hung a Horizon Air banner near the finish line to say thanks.  See photo at end of this post.)

UAX in CIC - 2

What we do not want: lots of empty seats

Now maybe readers can comment back and cite some examples where the airline did advertise its service or contributed travel to a local fundraiser or event, but even so the instances must have been few and far between.

The result is air service that is as close to invisible as it can be.  If you know about it, great, you’re part of the club.  If you don’t, well then you may think that the closest commercial airport is Sacramento.

Some readers may laugh, but I have encountered people who didn’t even know you could fly from Chico.  I’m not kidding.

One of the biggest pools of potential fliers is also the one that is least likely to know that Chico even has an airport: Chico State students (and their parents).  If they’re not from the Central Valley or the Bay Area, then they are likely to consider flying home instead of driving or using Amtrak.  But they need to be aware that we do have commercial air service here, or they’ll automatically fly from Sacramento.

What can we do?

It’s pretty basic but the airport needs a more robust web presence, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account.  To be accurate, there is an airport page on the City’s website but it really isn’t set up for promoting the service. is taken by a squatter, but among the freely available sites are,,,, or

Of course these are just basic tools – it’s what we build with them that matters.

What follows is a short list from my own musing.  It isn’t by any stretch meant to be comprehensive.  We need to get clever people in a room to come up with cool approaches to fill these planes.  If you have ideas of your own by all means comment back.

The ideas that follow all have dependencies, to use business jargon, mostly involving United Airlines/SkyWest or local business, but they should be pretty obvious based on what the idea is.  Some are aimed at locally originating traffic from Chico, and some are aimed at externally originating traffic to Chico but most of them could appeal to either group.

Because of the City of Chico’s present poor financial state, we must assume that the City has no money at its disposal to contribute to these measures.  The emphasis should be on efforts that are free or low-cost, and supported by the local business community.  Other than seeking “soft dollar” free tickets from United for promotional purposes, I think it is a safe bet that no cash would be forthcoming from United Airlines or SkyWest Airlines.

Fare of the month: once a month United publishes an exceptional deal from Chico to one destination for a limited purchase window which is announced via the website, Facebook, and Twitter

Save your boarding passes and win: United holds a quarterly drawing for free tickets for all passengers who have flown out of Chico

Everyone who flies from Chico’s a winner: on one Chico-San Francisco once a month, every passenger gets a $100 electronic certificate to apply to future travel from or to Chico

Fly Chico Passport – an array of deals offered by local merchants, restaurants, and entertainment venues is published in a passport-like folder.  This would require presentation of a boarding pass dated within one week of the date used or perhaps the passport is simply date-stamped by SkyWest or a volunteer greeter at the airport.

On board prize drawings – flight attendants conduct a free drawing on random inbound flights to Chico for prizes donated by local businesses

Olive oil flies free: allow passengers to check a box of olive oil without paying a checked bag fee.  Horizon Air initiated this for one case of wine when they began service to Santa Rosa in ’07 and it has been very successful.  They have since extended the policy it to Walla Walla, Wash.  Our region is rapidly becoming the Napa/Sonoma of California olive oil – what better way to promote the service to fly-in visitors than by letting them ship a box of olive oil home from the local airport for free.

University: I don’t know what would work best to reach Chico State students.  Perhaps the College of Business could have a contest among its marketing students to design an effective low-cost or no-cost Fly Chico campaign to reach their peers.

Chico’s business community: A key to success is getting more business travelers to fly out of Chico.  Successfully addressing the reliability issue discussed in earlier posts is a big factor, but there’s more to it than that.  Beyond promotions that provide incentives to individual travelers – leisure or business – what else would help to reach businesses with employees who travel for their work?

Would these and other promotional efforts be successful?  I don’t know,  but what I am certain of is that air service at the Chico airport has far too low a profile.  I also know that if we put some energy into this that United Airlines and SkyWest will take notice.  Will they grant us three wishes for anything we want?  No, but it will be clear that we are working hard to keep the existing service to San Francisco and make it thrive.

And only if it thrives is there any hope of progress in our next goal: expanding the service.


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Horizon Air at Sycamore Field at One Mile at the Bidwell Classic ’04


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Air Service in Chico – Preserve

Of the three themes, “Preserve” is the simplest to explain.  It means that we must retain the existing SkyWest/United Express service to San Francisco.

Yes, most Chico-area passengers currently fly out of Sacramento, but if Chico service ended there would no longer even be the possibility of flying out of Chico.  Sorry to break this news to readers, but to my knowledge no airlines are beating on the City of Chico’s doors begging to fill the void if United left town.

And in the absence of an active commercial airport with an operating security infrastructure (TSA), the likelihood of luring a carrier would be dim.

I do not want to see this bird go extinct in Chico.

I do not want to see this bird go extinct in Chico.

Furthermore Chico is not a U.S. Department of Transportation Essential Air Service (EAS) city.

This classification was established by the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act in order to ensure that small or remote cities would not lose all service as air carriers abandoned thin markets for the big cities.  (The federal government subsidizes limited commercial flights in these small markets.)  Recent changes to the law prevent a city that is not already an EAS city from becoming one if it loses all of its air service.  In other words, the EAS cities are now an exclusive club that Chico is not eligible to join.  (Only four cities in California remain part of EAS: Crescent City, El Centro, Merced, and Visalia.)

So it’s better to keep what we have and try to make it better, then to lose everything and start from scratch.

As part of the effort to preserve our existing service, I think we need to better understand which departments and individuals at United Airlines and/or SkyWest Airlines are responsible for planning and pricing the Chico service.  As part of that, we also need to know precisely how the relationship works between United Airlines and SkyWest Airlines.  I know that United is the customer in the relationship, and SkyWest provides the service under contract to United, but beyond that it’s not entirely clear.  Knowing who is responsible for which elements of the service means that we can direct our communication to those who have the power to act.  It doesn’t mean they will act, or will act in the way we would like them to, but at least we know we’re having a conversation with the right people.

I don’t know to what extent other communities, particularly smaller communities, interact with the managers of the airlines that serve them.  But I think we need to have a closer relationship with United and SkyWest.

In part, I think they need to be aware that we do value their flights.  If all they ever hear or read are our gripes about the service, they’re not going to “feel the love” that at least some of us here do have for our own commercial aviation link with the world.  But the purpose of a closer connection with them is not just to shower them with “attaboys”.  There are real issues we need to be able discuss collaboratively.

Here are the main concerns:

– flight scheduling (when flights operate)
– flight reliability (what happens when things go wrong)
– pricing (fares)
– promotion (getting more people flying out of Chico)

All four of these issues are of as much concern to United Airlines and SkyWest Airlines as they are to us.  Let’s see if we can find the right people at United and SkyWest in order to discuss these on a regular basis.  Our stake in the success of the existing service is no less than having commercial air service in Chico – at all.

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Air Service in Chico – Preserve, Promote, and Expand

The City of Chico’s Airport Commission is developing its 2013-2014 work plan.  At last night’s meeting, I was pleased that the Commission chose to adopt the language I suggested (“Preserve, Promote, and Expand”) for the element about commercial air service.

Here is the summary of the “Preserve, Promote and Expand” concept that I sent to the Commission in March, which I think concisely presents the key points.  Future posts in this series will add more detail to each of the three goals.


Craft a long-term strategy for commercial air service in Chico that incorporates three themes: preserve, promote, and expand


We must preserve the service that we have – inadequate as it may be – because it will be very difficult if not impossible to bring air service back to Chico once it is gone.


We need to explore all possible avenues to promote the current service both to those who live in the Chico catchment area traveling outbound, and to those who are inbound to Chico from other cities.

In order to preserve the current service, we must do everything we can to make it successful.  If we do not, then we not only risk losing the service we have, but we will also have much greater difficulty attracting the additional service we would like to have.  Success breeds success.


We need to distinguish two different but equally important avenues of expanding service.

The first is to increase the frequency of flights on United Express between Chico and San Francisco.  More flights means more reliability, more reliability means more demand, and more demand means more hope of achieving our second goal.

The second is to seek service by United Express or other carriers to new destinations.  Los Angeles (LAX) has been cited as the single most important new market, but opportunities to the other western hub airports (Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Phoenix) should be pursued with just as much vigor, as well as Portland or Seattle to the north.

It is indispensable that we create a coalition of interests – business, political, and community – to work together.  It will also require money to pay for the origin-destination data analysis that we (or a consultancy we hire) use to present our case to airline planners.  Depending on the size of aircraft, physical and security infrastructure investments at the airport may also be mandatory as a precursor to expansion.  Chico’s business community should understand that for there to be any chance of success they must be prepared to commit travel dollars in advance to a fund which guarantees the viability of a new service in its infancy.

Above all, it will require patience, perseverance, and ingenuity, and even with all of that there is no assurance of success.


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Air Service in Chico – Elsewhere in our region

Let’s look at six other medium size cities in northern California and southern Oregon to see what their commercial air service consists of.  Bear in mind that each city is its own unique market – just because City A has XYZ Airlines doesn’t mean that City B should, too – but it’s useful to be aware of what else is around us. At the end of the post are links to Wikipedia articles about each airport.



Presently Redding has exactly the same SlyWest/United Express service that Chico does: Three flights each direction to San Francisco on the same Embraer turboprops that serve Chico.  During the summer, (6 June-26 August) Redding will enjoy a fourth round-trip to San Francisco and then it’s back to three daily flights.

Last September Redding made a pitch to United for nonstop regional jet service to Denver but has yet to receive an answer.  (Article from Redding Record Searchlight)

Up until two years ago, Redding had two carriers.  Horizon Air, the regional subsidiary of Alaska Airlines served Redding for many years from Portland, using 76 passenger Bombardier Q400 turboprops.  In 2005, Horizon added southbound nonstop service to Los Angeles (LAX) which was well-received initially.  (The service was in conjunction with L.A. service from Eureka.)  But after a change in strategy that eliminated Horizon flights to several cities, all service to Redding was dropped in April 2011, and Redding has found itself a one-airline town ever since.  Rod Dinger, Redding’s long-time airport manager, is diligent in pursuing opportunities but Redding faces many of the same issues as Chico.

One big advantage Redding has that Chico does not, is already having in place the security and waiting room facilities to handle larger aircraft.  It’s an attractive airport – I used it some years when flying from Redding to Portland on Horizon Air.  It even has Peter Chu’s Skyroom, a Chinese restaurant on the airport’s second floor.



Like Redding, Eureka after the departure of Horizon Air in April 2011 found itself in the position of having just one commercial air carrier: SkyWest/United Express flying the Embraer turboprops.  One significant advantage that Eureka has over Redding and Chico is its remoteness from major airports: a drive to either Sacramento or San Francisco is five hours.

Eureka has service to three cities: San Francisco, Sacramento, and Crescent City.

To San Francisco it currently has six round-trips daily, going up to seven in June.  To Sacramento it has two round-trips daily.  And to Crescent City it has one daily round-trip (one of the Sacramento flights either originates or terminates in Crescent City).

Little Crescent City has three daily flights in and out.  Two nonstops each direction to San Francisco, and a flight to or from Eureka that terminates/originates in Sacramento.  Crescent City is an “Essential Air Service” (EAS) city, which means that it receives an annual subsidy from the U.S. Department of Transportation for commercial air service.

As with Redding, when Eureka lost Horizon Air it lost both its nonstop flights to LAX as well as northbound service to the Pacific Northwest.  The Horizon service to LAX was operated in round-robin fashion, meaning that flights might operate Eureka-Redding-LAX or LAX-Eureka-Redding.

Not very long ago (2009-2010), Eureka did enjoy summer season eastbound service on regional jets operated by SkyWest under the Delta Connection brand to Delta’s big hub in Salt Lake City, but the service was not renewed after 2010.



Like Chico, Redding, Eureka, and Crescent City, Klamath Falls is served only by SkyWest/United Express with Embraer turboprops.  While they do have service to two destinations (Portland and San Francisco),  only one one round-trip is operated per day to each city.  To both cities flights leave in the morning, and then return fairly late at night.  Horizon Air formerly served Klamath Falls with service to Portland, but left town in October 2008.  SkyWest/United Express resumed service in the wake of Horizon’s departure after having previously served Klamath Falls in the 1990s.



Klamath Falls is roughly the same distance from Medford that Chico is from Sacramento.  While Medford doesn’t have the array of service that a big city like Sacramento does, it has the most extensive by far of the airports I’m including in this post.  Medford’s good fortune is that it is a 5 hour drive to either Portland or Sacramento, too far to be practical to drive under most circumstances.  It must draw on a significant population base, too, because the number of enplanements (number of passengers boarded) is third in Oregon after Portland and Eugene.

Alaska Airlines (Horizon Air) operates five round-trips daily to Portland, two to Seattle, and one to Los Angeles (LAX).

SkyWest/United Express operates 6 to 7 round-trips daily (depends on the season) to San Francisco.  Most flights are Embraers, but one or two can be on regional jet aircraft.  United Express also has two regional jet round-trips daily to United’s big Denver hub.

Skywest/Delta Connection operates two round-trips daily on regional jets to Delta’s Salt Lake City hub.

Allegiant Air, a leisure-travel only airline, operates twice weekly round-trip flights (Thursdays and Sundays) on MD-80 jets to Las Vegas, Los Angeles (LAX), and Phoenix-Mesa (AZA).



Santa Rosa is an interesting case and one I’ll refer back to in future posts.  It lost all air service in October 2001 when SkyWest/United Express dropped the city in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.

After the cessation of service a long-term process began to restore commercial air service.  It was led by Paul Kelley, a member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.  On 20 March 2007, the seeds planted years earlier bore fruit: Horizon Air began service with 76 passenger Bombardier Q400 turboprops between Santa Rosa and Los Angeles (LAX) and Seattle.  (Side note: I rode on the very first flight to Los Angeles.)

The service was a success from the beginning, with Portland and Las Vegas later added as destinations.  Las Vegas service was dropped last June, but Alaska Airlines (Horizon Air) replaced the Las Vegas flights with service to San Diego.

Santa Rosa is in the middle of a terminal expansion program and runway lengthening project at the conclusion of which they hope to be able to attract regional jet service to one or more of the western hubs of Salt Lake City (Delta), Denver (United or Frontier), or Phoenix (US Airways).

One of my favorite details about Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air’s service is that they have a provision for Santa Rosa that allows passengers to check as baggage up to a case of wine at no charge.  For the airport in the heart of California’s wine country this is a valuable perk to passengers and a marketing arrow in the quiver for both the airline and the airport.  Alaska Airlines recently added this benefit to passengers flying out of Walla Walla (ALW), in the heart of one of Washington’s premier wine regions.


Links to Wikipedia articles about these airports:
Crescent City
Klamath Falls
Santa Rosa


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Air Service in Chico – Fares

Apart from the issue of reliability, another reason some people in Chico cite for not flying out of Chico is the higher price they think they will pay compared with Sacramento and other airports.

Is that true?  It depends.

It depends on where you’re going.  It depends on when you’re going.  It depends on whether the people or computers that determine fares are paying attention to (or care about) comparable fares out of Sacramento.  And sometimes it just doesn’t seem to depend on anything other than if the moon is full or whether your cat slept well the night before last.

I’ve worked in the travel industry for most of my so-called adult life, and began on the airline side working initially in the TWA R.S.O. (“reservation sales office”, or “call center” in today’s parlance)  in San Francisco in 1979.  You may have read all or part of my lengthy blog series from a few years ago called “Airline Fare School” in which I teach the basics of airline fares to non-travel industry civilians.

Though I’m still in travel, I do not sell airline tickets – I operate a hotel  reservation service for business travelers who have more valuable things to do with their time than spend it fussing with hotel bookings.  However through the Apollo travel industry system I use to confirm hotels, I have access to the airline side of the house, and I enjoy playing around with fares and flights, and price different scenarios.  It’s my window on the glamorous airline industry.

One thing that is essential to understand about airline fares is that they can and do change a lot.  Competition, seasonality, systemwide strategic pricing changes, a bad hangover – lots of stuff enters into how an airline prices transportation.  Anything you see in this post was true as of the moment I wrote it, but will no doubt go stale shortly thereafter.  So take the spirit of it with you rather than the specific examples.

I have obtained some great deals out of Chico.  Three years ago I paid about $149 round-trip including taxes and fees to fly from Chico to Las Vegas.  Now you’d be looking at around $400 to make the trip.  By the same token when I was checking fares to LAX recently the best fare was $368 round-trip from Chico; the next day I saw fares of around $250 round-trip for a limited time period.  That’s the way things are in this industry.

Over the years I’ve seen times when fares out of Chico were actually less than out of Sacramento.  Why?  Perhaps an automated system or the person responsible for updating fares was asleep at the wheel.  Perhaps they were testing the Chico market.  It’s impossible to say.

United Airlines tariff (fare) display in Apollo
Chico-San Francisco, 20 May 2013
(Click on image to see it in larger scale)









At this moment I’d say there’s only one bargain price out there and it’s in the market probably the fewest people fly: simply between Chico and San Francisco and no further.  (The vast majority of passengers connect in SFO to or from other cities.)  United offers a round-trip requiring a 14-day advance purchase and Saturday night stay of $138.  Note that this price (and others for domestic travel in the Lower 48) includes the 7.5% excise tax, but not various other fees (fuel surcharge, security, airport facility, flight segment).  With all fees the $138 amount becomes $152.

This is the only round-trip fare published in the market.  Others are all one-way fares ranging from $109 to $401, depending on advance purchase and available inventory.  (The $1006 fare in the fare display for all intents and purposes never applies.)

There’s no point in comparing prices from Sacramento to San Francisco since hardly anyone flies it for local traffic, and certainly no one from Chico would drive to Sacramento and then fly to San Francisco.

Let’s now look at examples of other prices from Chico and Sacramento to popular destinations.

I would like to remind you of some basic guidelines:

– amounts are round-trip (in some cases the fares are published round-trips, in other cases they are one-way fares doubled)
– amounts only include the 7.5% excise tax, not additional mandatory fees or fuel surcharges
fares are subject to change at any time (and indeed some of these fares were not in the marketplace when I began writing this post)
– these are the lowest fares in the market and require varying degrees of advance purchase as well as travel on certain days of the week
– prices out of Chico can be less than what you see below when the fare is “broken” (ie. the system prices an itinerary using point-to-point fares such as Chico-San Francisco plus San Francisco-New York, instead of the thru fare between Chico-New York because the sum of the parts is lower).
– price comparisons are only with United Airlines, not other airlines that may fly in the market, unless otherwise indicated
– where you see two amounts – ex. $252/$256 – it’s because two similar fares apply but for different days of the week (Tuesday and Wednesday are often less expensive days of the week to travel)

Los Angeles (LAX) – from Chico: $246/$252 – from Sacramento: $146/150
San Diego (SAN) – from Chico: $252/$256 – from Sacramento: $152/$156
Las Vegas (LAS) – from Chico: $368 – from Sacramento: $150/$156
Portland (PDX) – from Chico: $368 – from Sacramento: $140/$176 (comparison is with Alaska Airlines)
Seattle (SEA) – from Chico: $408 – from Sacramento: $284/$292 (comparison is with Alaska Airlines)
Denver (DEN) – from Chico: $328/$336 – from Sacramento: $228/$236
Dallas (DFW) – from Chico: $440 – from Sacramento: $338 (comparison is with American Airlines)
Chicago (ORD) – from Chico: $470 – from Sacramento: $402/416
Atlanta (ATL) – from Chico: $470 – from Sacramento: $398
Miami (MIA) – from Chico: $438/$458 – from Sacramento: $338/$358
Asheville, N.C. (AVL) – from Chico $470 – from Sacramento: $476
Washington, D.C. (IAD) – from Chico: $364/$372 – from Sacramento: $264/$272
New York (JFK) – from Chico: $320 – from Sacramento: $220
Boston (BOS) – from Chico: $470 – from Sacramento: $324

In a moment I’ll show you when flying out of Chico is almost a no-brainer: flying internationally.  But let’s wrap up flying domestically.

Again, I emphasize that this is a snapshot in time from when I wrote this post, and only touches on the lowest fares in a market.  Fares with less or no advance purchase at all, commonly used by business travelers, are significantly higher from any airport.

If you are deciding whether to fly out of Chico or Sacramento, you also need to weigh the additional costs that come with Sacramento.

First you have the drive – 172 miles round-trip from my house – that includes a big, dreary, 2-lane highway/non-freeway chunk whether you take 70 (my route) or 99.  (It’s 12 miles round-trip from my house to the Chico airport.)  Do the math yourself for the fuel cost considering the mileage your vehicle gets.

Secondly, you have parking in Sacramento, the least expensive of which is $10 per day.  Parking at the Chico airport is currently free.  While the City is considering imposing parking fees, my hunch is that this will not occur for some time.

Lastly, consider the additional time required to use Sacramento from two different perspectives.  Besides the long drive, it simply takes longer to get around the Sacramento airport and to your flight.  In Chico, well it’s sort of like boarding the aircraft from your living room.

And the other time factor is the nature of flights available from Sacramento vs. from San Francisco.  Sacramento is simply not a Big League airport in the same way that San Francisco is.

That means, in order to get to many important destinations from Sacramento you have no choice but to use connecting flights.  A nonstop from San Francisco to Boston gets there a lot faster (and more reliably) than a connecting flight from Sacramento via Chicago (or Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas, etc).

None of this is meant to say you shouldn’t fly out of Sacramento.  It’s your choice, and on many occasions it might make better sense from one or more standpoints.  But compare all of the elements of the trip, not just the ticket price alone, before you write off Chico.  If you are being taken to (or picked up in) Sacramento you may also find it handy to fly out of Chico but back to Sacramento, or vice-versa.

International travel

Now let’s look at some examples to illustrate that you really must consider Chico when you’re flying outside of the United States.  I don’t think most people from Chico fly out of Sacramento for international travel – they drive and leave their car at San Francisco.  But in so many instances, United common-rates fares (applies the same price) out of Chico and San Francisco so that for all intents and purposes you fly for free between Chico and San Francisco to connect with international flights.

These examples are using the same flights from/to San Francisco, with the Chico flights added at either end.  Because there are fuel surcharges and lots of taxes and fees for international travel, I’m providing the total price for an apples-to-apples comparison.  When higher from Chico, the amount is small, and usually due to the application of fees or taxes.  Look closely at the difference – sometimes it’s actually less to fly out of Chico!

London – 20 May to 20 June – from Chico: $1279.40 – from San Francisco: $1275.40 (difference: $4)
Munich – 10-21 October – from Chico: $1305 – from San Francisco: $1291 (difference: $14)
Paris – 4-16 August – from Chico: $1646.90 – from San Francisco: $1653.90 (difference: $7 less out of Chico)
Mexico City – 10-17 May – from Chico: $620.62 – from San Francisco: $641.62 ($21 less out of Chico)
Sydney – 10 June-1 July – from Chico: $1982.80 – from San Francisco: $2068.80 ($86 less out of Chico)

If you have a fear of missing your connection out of San Francisco on an international flight you can book a really long connecting time – up to 24 hours – without paying extra.  I wrote about this in Airline Fare School.  For all international destinations except Canada, the connecting time in domestic airports may be up to 24 hours without causing a break in fare (i.e. paying more).

Let’s wrap this up.

Is it in general more expensive to fly out of Chico for domestic travel?

Yes, but not always, or at least not always by an exorbitant amount.  I suggest that Chicoans check rates from both Chico and Sacramento, and then weigh the factors of cost, convenience, and reliability, and choose accordingly.

Could prices be more attractive?

Yes, in particular to other cities in California, adjoining states and elsewhere in the western United States.  Perhaps this is by design to encourage passengers to mostly use flights from Chico to San Francisco to connect with long-haul United flights, but since so much air travel is regional it may dampen potential demand.

Knowing who at United sets prices, and what criteria they apply (and what grounds for flexibility they have) would be very useful in efforts to make flying from Chico more attractive.


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Air Service in Chico – Reliability

For those who do fly out of Chico, or at least consider it along with flights from other airports, reliability can be a key factor.

How reliable are the flights from Chico?

Subjectively, it probably depends on what your personal experiences have been.  If you’ve flown from and to Chico, and have had generally positive experiences, then it’s likely you feel good about it.  For example, the last time I flew out of Chico was in June 2012, connecting in San Francisco both ways with nonstops to and from Newark, N.J..  Everything worked flawlessly even though the connecting time in SFO on the return was brief.  A month prior to that, a trip to Austin, Tex. also went smoothly.

On the other hand my partner returned from Tampa in March, and due to a mechanical delay in Houston, what would have been generous connecting time in San Francisco evaporated and he missed the on-time departure of the flight to Chico.  He had to wait five hours for the next Chico flight.

For me, the ease and convenience of flying from and to Chico trump the possibility of delayed flights in most instances.  But for others – business travelers in particular – it can be a deal breaker that leads them to use Sacramento exclusively.  Looking at the comments the first post in this series has already received, the reliability question is critical, and I dare say that this chapter will generate further comments along the same lines.

When I talk with Chicoans about their flying habits the reliability issue comes up repeatedly.  While I think some people merely repeat what they hear from other people (when asked if they have ever flown out of Chico, often the answer is “no”), there are those who really do want to use Chico, but have been burned in the past.  They’ve had forced overnights in San Francisco, or ended up renting a car in order to get home.

The reliability issue is more than just the usual stuff of weather/single-runway operations at SFO, mechanical delays, flow control (ATC delaying departures in the origin city to prevent congestion at the destination city), and flight cancellations; it is also inextricably linked to the lack of frequency of flights between San Francisco and Chico.

Using the example of my partner’s missed connection, it was the late arrival of the Houston-San Francisco flight that caused him to miss the on-time flight to Chico.  However with only three flights per day, he had missed the second flight of the day, and then had to wait five hours until the third and last flight.  (By the way if you miss a flight and are stuck with a long layover, ask for a meal voucher at a United customer service desk.  No guarantees, but you might get one.  He did.)

Conversely, when I was flying frequently between Chico and Washington, D.C., the issue was insignificant because there were six flights between Chico and San Francisco.  If a late flight to San Francisco caused me to misconnect with the flight to Chico, the next one didn’t require an excessively long wait.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has an amazing array of aviation statistics available on its website.  For flight delay statistics this page shows all sorts of options for searches.

Here’s one example: take a look at the Bureau of Transportation Statistics page for “Airline On-Time Statistics and Delay Causes”.  Select “SkyWest Airlines Inc. (OO)” from the drop-down list, “Chico”, and then “January 2012” and “December 2012”.  See example below for how the query should look.

What is returned is a detailed synopsis with pie chart for arriving flights to Chico.  On-time (within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival) were 64.62% of flights.  As to the reasons, the most common were late inbound aircraft (nearly 20%), air carrier delay (mechanical, etc. – 6.38%), and canceled flights (5.9%).

No, Chico’s 64.62% isn’t very good, but nearby Redding scores even more poorly at 59.92% on-time.  For comparison, Sacramento’s overall (all airlines) on-time performance last year was 83.67%, and SkyWest specifically there was 76.15%.

If you’re wondering about an individual flight, that information is available to you when making flight reservations, thanks to DOT requirements.  Using United’s website for example, here is what you’ll see when reviewing flight choices:





Click on “See On-Time performance” and another window will appear.








Yes, that “on-time” number is correct.  The first flight of the day from Chico (the one that leaves anywhere from 5:00 a.m. to 6:15 a.m., depending on the time of year, is exceptionally reliable.  It’s always the one I use, and it connects with the first wave of flights out of San Francisco to faraway places in the Midwest and on the east coast.  (Because the aircraft overnights in Chico, there isn’t a question of the plane being available the next day.)

Reliability is crucial to creating more passengers dedicated to flying out of Chico.

Whatever United and SkyWest can do to improve performance will be useful, whether it is establishing a longer minimum connecting time in San Francisco or setting guidelines for flight cancellations that are invoked as rarely as possible.  There are things that the City, the business community, and interested members of the public can do to promote air service in Chico, but making the existing service more reliable – much more reliable – is in the hands of United and SkyWest.

Yes, weather and other factors beyond the airlines’ control will always throw some curve balls, and flying out of Sacramento does not immunize a passenger to many of the same disruptions.  But better processes to handle trouble, and perhaps judicious use of a standby aircraft and crew in San Francisco (to protect all of the cities served by SkyWest in northern California, not just Chico) would go a long way toward restoring the reputation of the service.

Ultimately adding back frequency in the market will be the best hedge of all against unpredictability.


Air Service in Chico – navigational links
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Air Service in Chico – History

I’m not pretending to present an authoritative history of Chico’s air service, but rather just a couple of snapshots of old airline timetables I own.  Links embedded in the names of airlines referenced go to Wikipedia articles.

Any readers who have kept old Chico timetables or OAGs (Official Airline Guides) should please comment back with additional information or anecdotes.  (The City of Chico does not keep an archive of old timetables.)


Hughes Airwest, 1 July 1973

This Hughes Airwest timetable from 1973 listed three daily flights to San Francisco and two to Redding.  One of the Redding flights was a milk run that continued to Klamath Falls, Portland, and Seattle.










WestAir, 15 June 1979

WestAir operated nonstop flights to Redding, Sacramento, and San Francisco.











Pacific Express, 1 October 1982

Pacific Express was noteworthy not only because it flew jets (BAC 111) but also in that it was actually based in Chico, though Chico flights were an insignificant part of its network.  In this timetable one daily round-trip operates to San Francisco.  (The southbound flight continued to LAX.)  Pacific Express operated between 1982 and 1984.








I moved to Chico in September 1998, and between that time and late 2000 I traveled to and from Washington, DC, frequently.  At that time (and for how long before I do not know) SkyWest/United Express was the sole carrier to Chico, and exclusively to and from United’s San Francisco hub.  During the 1998-2000 period in which flew I frequently, United Express operated six flights each direction.  In the autumn of 2012, service was reduced from four to three flights where it stands now (April 2013).

Here’s a YouTube clip brought to my attention by Debbie Collins, Management Analyst at the City of Chico.  It’s an 11 minute audio clip about the airport, focusing on its commercial aviation history and then on its years as an Army Air Corps training base, and its postwar history as a location for an ICBM silo.  (Thanks, Debbie!)


Air Service in Chico – navigational links
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Next post: Reliability

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Air Service in Chico – Introduction

When local businesses are surveyed as to what the impediments are to growth, the lack of commercial air service is always among the top factors.  Every few years there is a brief upsurge of interest followed by a few more years of slumber.

But in the nearly 15 years that I have lived in Chico, little has resulted from these scattered efforts.  And where once there were six flights daily between Chico and San Francisco there now are three.

In the blog series which will follow, I’m going to sketch out what I see as a long-term, comprehensive strategy with a broader focus than simply trying to secure a flight to a destination other than San Francisco.  In baseball terms, service to a new city would be a home run, but I think we first need to hit some singles and doubles

I summarize the strategy as “Preserve, Promote, and Expand”

Before I get into each of these three elements, I’ll cover some history, the reliability of the current service, the pricing (fares) out of Chico, and offer a glance at the service available at other nearby small airports.

Fasten your seat belt, think about the drink you’d like to order from the flight attendant, and enjoy your flight: the “Air Service in Chico” series takes off tomorrow.


Air Service in Chico – navigational links
Next post: History


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Chico – What a Wanderful town

When running an errand on my bike downtown yesterday, I noticed that the space under construction at 325 Broadway had a business sign above the door: Wanderful.

Today, I remembered to Google it and this is what I read on its “about” page: “[…] Wanderful Media helps retailers bring consumers into local stores and gives consumers the most convenient way to discover local merchandise.”

Some of the biggest companies in American newspaper media (including MediaNews Group, parent company of the Enterprise-Record) are among the financial backers.  Interesting.

What I was also unaware of until now is that Wanderful was already in Chico out at the airport, but they plan to relocate downtown soon.  In doing so they will keep company with some of our other local tech outfits including Auctiva and EXL Landa (formerly Landacorp) just a few blocks away.  Wanderful was referenced briefly in an article from 15 February in the E-R.

Should we be calling Chico the “Silicon Orchard” now?

The Chico location is Wanderful’s development and operations center, and I’m delighted to say that the headquarters is in my hometown of Los Gatos in the Santa Clara Valley.  (I never call it Silicon Valley.  Santa Clara Valley sounds so much better.)  In case you don’t know, a very well-known company also calls Los Gatos home: Netflix.

A warm “walcome” to Wanderful!



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Chico – Airport Commission: Work Plan Development Workshop, 12 March

The City of Chico Airport Commission will hold a special meeting on Tuesday, 12 March, at 6:00 p.m.  In conjunction with City staff, the commission is to draw up a work plan (which must be approved by the City Council) that sets priorities and guides the commission for the next two years.

If you’re interested in matters that the Airport Commission oversees (attracting additional commercial air service, setting fees for airport services, economic development around the airport) then you may be interested in attending this meeting.  Normal Airport Commission meetings are held quarterly with the next regularly scheduled meeting set for 30 April.

Note that the location of the special meeting is not the City Council chambers, but rather next door on the second floor of the Old Municipal Building at the corner of 5th and Main.

Here is a link to the agenda.

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