High demand, low resources behind Abilene Regional Airport losing United service, director says

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ABILENE Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The Abilene Regional Airport announced Tuesday via Press Release that United Airlines would no longer be providing them service effective Oct. 1.

Any ticket holders who have scheduled United flights past the Oct. 1 cutoff will be contacted by the airline once the system has been redirected to the new flight status.

This partnership began with much anticipation and optimism on Oct. 21, 2020. ABI director of transportation Don Green says they tried to avoid the split and get the airline to stay, but their minds were made up.

Abilene officials cut the ribbon, opening United flights to Houston (2020)

“We talked with United late in the week trying to get a change in the termination but that did not work out,” says Green.

Green further stated that travel on the United flights was up, and the United termination was no fault of our own, but rather a sign of the times.

“The demand has been so rapid in air travel that it has just overwhelmed the airline’s resources, so that’s why they’re having to pull back in several of these cities that they started during the pandemic,” Green said.

One Frequent ABI flyer, Erin Schroeder, says she was shocked to hear that United would be discontinuing service after only a year since she had only had positive experiences with the airline.

United flight Departs Abilene Regional Airport (2020)

“I have not been in a plane that wasn’t full since United started a year ago,” Schroeder says. “The shock to me is the reason they’re pulling out. Not lack of clients or passengers, it’s they need to move these planes and pilots to another market.”

Her family averages 14-16 flights a year, all out of Abilene Regional. She says the direct flights to Houston were a dream come true.

“So I will continue on this path of using American. I just hope United will come back so we can have options,” Schroeder said.

The process to get United in Abilene was long. Part of that process included a good faith safety net offering of $1.2 million to United, which would be used to pay the difference in flights that were not full in that first year.

“Those flights that did not make a break-even point for them, we paid that difference, so that money was expended by April of this year,” says Green.

One million dollars of that sum came from the Small Community Air Service Development Program (SCASD) grant, which many regional airports make use of. Another $200,000 was put up by the city to show commitment to the program.

2020 Abilene grant as presented to SCASD

The airport was also seeking $120,000 in marketing funds from the city to promote United’s flights to Houston. That proposal will now be rewritten to focus on the airport’s other carrier, American Airlines, and further develop those services.

Green says he believes that ABI has more than proven the success of their partnership, and should they ever find themselves in a more favorable position, the door is always open.

“We think that we’ve demonstrated that there is that pent up demand for Houston service, so we’ve told them we would welcome them back to the market when things stabilize some and they get to where they can start growing again,” Green says.

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