Salina has entered a new era in commercial air service as part of the United Airlines family. Records for passenger boarding's are being smashed at the busy M.J. Kennedy Air Terminal, since United began service to both Denver and Chicago (O'Hare) on April 19, 2018. The service is operated by SkyWest Airlines.
Additions to current United service are being discussed, and terminal building improvements are ahead. More amenities and products for both casual and business travelers are in the works, said Jay Brame, of Chicago, United sales manager of the Kansas market.
"It's a great time at United," he told more than a dozen community leaders Feb. 7 at Business Roundtable gathering in the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce Annex. "We're putting newer planes into the smaller business markets, where we want passengers to have a good experience," Brame said. "There will be a lot of expansion this year."
Brame referred to United as the fastest growing major airline. Gary Foss concurred. He is the managing partner of the ArkStar Group, who is serving as Salina's air travel consultant. "In the past year, just the additional capacity (available seats) United brought online is greater than some of the nation's smaller airlines," Foss said.
Brame drew a parallel between the burgeoning United service of today to transportation breakthroughs in Kansas during the 19th century. "It's the modern-day equivalent of the Kansas-Pacific Railroad arriving in Salina and Hays," he said.
That advent of new and better travel, "changed Salina," said Tim Rogers, executive director of the Salina Airport Authority.
In a powerpoint presentation, Brame touted United as "the largest airline in the world," with 158 million customers in 2018, taking 1.7 million flights to 353 airports across five continents.
* At Chicago, United offers 591 daily flights to 159 U.S. airports and 41 international destinations.
* At Denver, United operates 419 daily flights to 147 airports in the U.S. and 13 international destinations.
The air travel giant that operates 4,800 flights a day and added 93 routes last year.
"The great thing is that Salina flights make connections to the east and west (Chicago and Denver), and is one stop away from international destinations," Brame said.
United out of Chicago serves London three times a day, he said, Rome, Italy and Edinburgh, Scotland. "International connections are becoming very important in Salina," Rogers added, especially for businesses that market products worldwide, such as Great Plains Manufacturing, Schwan's Company, and Vortex Global.
Brame prepared this statement for his Salina audience: "There are few things that fuel economic development more than quality air service. The United jet service, operated by SkyWest to both Chicago and Denver, will increase trade activity to and from Salina and Hays and the surrounding region by enabling faster and easier movement of passengers to more locations. Quality air service helps with business recruitment, business retention and quality of life - and it is crucial to the success of the largest employers."
SkyWest's 50-seat aircraft that serve Salina have 99-percent Controllable Completion Factors. While adverse weather did cause some problems since United began service in Salina, Rogers reminded "there were no cancellations due to pilot shortages; no crew rest issues." During poor weather this winter that affected flights in and out of Chicago, SkyWest was able to serve passengers out of Salina by changing their connections to Denver.
"SkyWest doesn't cut any corners. Within the industry, it is widely considered to be the best regional operator in the business. They don't cancel flights, they're on time and they invest heavily in maintenance," Foss said. "Because SkyWest has such a good reputation, it has a better ability to attract pilots," he said.
United's MileagePlus specialty product is "the best frequent flyer program" for individuals, Brame said. "You earn miles for dining, hotel stays, travel to more than 1,100 destinations worldwide," he said, and the credits can be used for cruises, hotel stays and train fares. MileagePlus also participates with Marriott rewards, Hilton, and other hotel chains.
Customers can join United Club and take advantage of dedicated c
onference rooms, complementary beverages and light snacks, complimentary bar se
rvice, assistance with reservations, seat assignments and
electronic ticketing, and complimentary high-speed wireless
The airline offers special meeting travel benefits for corporate gatherings, association meetings and conferences, incentive trips, trade shows and training; group travel for 10 or more on the same flights, for events such as reunions, family vacations, weddings, class trips, tours and sports teams, with a minimum group size of six, versus the normal low of 10.
The PerksPlus program rewards companies for travel on United and participating carriers. United touts PerksPlus as "the industry-leading complimentary business loyalty rewards program for small and mid-size companies." "We've opened Polaris Lounges (in some airports), dedicated to those flying business class," Brame said. "United is unique in points-to-miles programs."
The United Passenger Plus program offers cost savings, predictability and other added values, with a minimum of $25,000 up front for individuals and $50,000 for corporations. "We have companies that buy $10 million worth of travel up front," Brame said. "We have programs tailored to meet business needs. We can basically tailor any contract to fit anyone's needs."
The meeting impressed Joyce Volk, chairperson of the Salina Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors. "The biggest thing is (United's) drives to expand, not only all over the world, but they also want to help Salina," she said. "I just love United."