Sunday, 11 July 2010

Winging it out of Buffalo
The Welcome Mat is Out

15 JUN 2010:  Buffalo, New York is famous for the best chicken wings, its hard-luck Buffalo Bills football team and some brutal snowstorms. It is also becoming a very popular departure city for Canadians to fly out of instead of Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. I know many in and out of the travel industry who love flying out of Buffalo. On a recent business trip I decided to check it out myself for value and convenience.

I needed to fly into Boston on business. I had been looking at our own Canadian based airlines and fares to Boston. The price kept creeping up as my departure date got closer. As travel agents know it’s always a gamble whether to wait to see if the price will go down. In this case they kept going up. For whatever reason the dates I selected were popular, so seats were falling by the wayside but not the price – it only had a straight vertical rise.

I could get a cheaper fare on one US carrier if I wanted to fly Toronto-Fort Lauderdale-Washington DC-Boston. Now doesn’t that sound like fun!

Panic, frustration and reality set in since my trip was now only a couple of days away and I had to co-ordinate my flights with other members in a group. I was about to rent a vehicle and just drive to Boston (about 10 hours from Toronto). But then the land of the Buffalo wing set me straight.

I had never considered flying out of Buffalo before but checked out the fares and a US based commuter carrier had non-stop flights to Boston. It was between 25-40 percent of the price compared to the price of the other flights from Toronto even though the flight time is about the same. I immediately booked the flights.

Yes, there would be a two hour drive to Buffalo. But I just saved over a thousand dollars. A taxi from my place to Pearson airport – about $65 each way. That’s $130 return. And I haven’t even left the city yet. It would be far less in gas to drive to Buffalo even with the high fuel prices.

After crossing the border (a 15 minute wait) it’s a short 30 minute drive to Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. The airport was actually larger than what I was anticipating. It was modern, clean and efficient.

I did the Preferred Long Term Parking which is adjacent to the airport. An Airport shuttle was there in less than a minute. I stepped on the shuttle and the driver immediately said, 'Welcome to Buffalo-Niagara International Airport – how are you doing today?'

It’s only a two minute drive to the departures drop-off. When I chatted with the driver and I said I was from Toronto he replied he was pleased and appreciated the fact I chose Buffalo to fly out of.

Wow! A person who appreciates my business. I think this is the first time an airport employee has said this to me. I’ve had friendly service from Canadian airport personnel (and definitely unfriendly as well, but never before has anyone said they appreciated my business.

The check-in was done in a minute and with no customs to go through a short walk to security, where they were efficient but friendly, and off to wait for my flight. I wasn’t expecting to be done so quickly – maybe a total of 10 minutes from being left off from the airport shuttle to passing through security.

My appetite was calling so decided to grab a bite. This is the one area that the airport can work on – they need to offer a better variety of food services but it was adequate. The Wi-Fi is $7.95 per 24 hour period (and can be used at some other airports) but hopefully that will change as more airports are offering free internet access now.

The other pleasantry about smaller airports – no long taxi out to the runway, or huge line-ups of planes waiting to take-off. At Pearson half the flight sometimes seems to be the taxi to or from the gate.

My flight back to Buffalo was delayed so I didn’t arrive until just before midnight. After leaving the plane and going to the baggage claim area my bag was coming off the belt – now this I love!

I then waited a couple of minutes for the shuttle. I probably had an 'It’s been a long day, haggard look' and the airport shuttle driver said, 'Tell me exactly where your car is in the lot and I’ll drop you off there.' Another customer service 'wow' moment. And, like the other driver, he said how he’s happy that I chose Buffalo airport. Since it was so late I decided to stay in Buffalo and he ran down a list of possible hotels – some just across the street or some cheaper ones a bit further down the road. Nice.

The service at the airport is friendly and genuine. It extends to their website with a Canadian information section providing information on real time border crossings, directions to the airport from various border points, Canadian ground transportation and Nexus Pass information.

I laughed at the image used on the Canadian information page of the website. It’s a young Canadian couple with the guy wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs’ hockey jersey. I wonder what the Buffalo Sabres’ fans say about that!

Even with the hotel cost, gas, I still saved hundreds of dollars on my flight compared to the price I would have paid out of Toronto. No wonder you see the parking lot filled with Ontario licence plates.

I prefer to support Canadian airlines and airports – we have some great ones here too, and no doubt travel agents feel the pressure from their clients when searching for the most inexpensive fares that it makes sense to fly out of Buffalo or other US border city.

The federal government needs to wake up and see revenues being lost due to the excessive fees they charge airports and airlines which are then passed along to the traveller.

Even more satisfying than the money I saved what impressed me the most was my business was genuinely appreciated. Customer service is alive and well in Buffalo.

Reprinted with permission from Travel Industry Today

No comments: