Sky Harbor Responds to “International Flight” Criticism

Welcome to Sky Harbor – small planes, small goals.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport isn’t happy with a post that hints that its staff lags in securing intercontinental routes and airlines.The recent “addition” of another British Airways flight didn’t impress me. More accurately, this will bring Phoenix back to seven flights a week from the current six; (seven years ago, the British Airways flight went from daily to six days a week, a fact The Arizona Republic skipped in its rush to cheerfully ralph up the city press release).

So, there’s little net gain. Sky Harbor is just back where it was seven years ago. Contrast that to Denver International Airport, which just made hay by snagging seasonal direct service to Iceland. Nice score for an outdoorsy metro area! It puts this snippy, defensive reply to my post from unnamed Sky Harbor personnel into perspective:

We have seen your blog in response to the added British Airways flight. Your disappointment in the number of international flights is concerning. Please be advised that airports compete heavily for air service and airlines make business decisions about where to fly based on the estimated profitability of the flight. This begins with the number of passengers that will fly daily in full-fare first and business class seats, followed by the number of additional passengers in full-fare and discount economy seats. Under the direction of the Mayor, Council and City Manager, the Aviation Department actively evaluates this local market and presents competitive information to airlines to encourage them to consider Phoenix. If you have research about the areas you mention in your blog such as Asia and Europe and evidence of 150-200+ people per day in the Valley who would buy seats on these flights, please share it with us. We would appreciate any such information that would assist the airlines in making what amounts to a multi-million dollar investment in our market and more international flights for the Valley. 
Thank you in advance for any information you can provide.

Customer Service
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

So, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport wants me to do its job. It wants me to do what its staff can’t –  compete with competition like Denver International Airport. Sounds to me like Denver and its staff researched areas where 150-200+ people might make it worthwhile for an airline to make a multi-million-dollar investment in their market for international flights. Denver displayed the initiative, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport crew lacks. The score” Denver International Airport – 4 new Icelandair flights, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport – 1 “sort-of-new” British Airways flight.

My response:

Dear Customer Service,

Thanks for your response. I would be happy to help Sky Harbor in its mission to add intercontinental routes and carriers. We can approach it two ways: A per-hour consulting fee of $150, or a retainer for up to 20 hours of research per month. You could also arrange a panel of local travelers representing leisure and business segments to determine what routes are worth your thought. Finally, you could poll Sky Harbor travelers with questions related to their thoughts on intercontinental routes – a sample of about 3,000 is enough to be statistically relevant. 
Or, and I’m just spitballing here, you can encourage the people already on the city’s payroll to display initiative, creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.
Here’s a bit of free advice: Study the number of Phoenix travelers who have to fly to Los Angeles International, Chicago O’Hare, San Francisco International, Newark, John F. Kennedy and Houston Intercontinental to transfer to flights abroad. Determine the top destinations. Court those airlines and routes heavily. Just off the top of my head, I know that United Airlines – possibly as a punitive punishment over a squabble for international flights – cancelled the soon-to-be-implemented 787 service from Houston to Auckland (word is it was an excuse to put the 787 on a route to Japan instead, while also sticking it to the Houston City Council). Now, if I were a Sky Harbor employee tasked with attracting new routes, I’d look into pitching 787 service from Phoenix to Auckland starting at four flights a week. Such a flight would pull passengers from the Qantas and Air New Zealand flights from LAX and possibly SFO. Name a passenger who loves flying from LAX … oh, that’s right: Nobody likes flying from LAX. Other aspects to consider: New Zealand is an English-speaking country that makes a convenient travel experience for American travelers. And the U.S. dollar is strong next to the Kiwi dollar. Plus filling up a 787 on this route wouldn’t be as difficult as a 777 or 747, which is the 787’s mission – long, thin routes. 
Here’s something else I’d add – consider what Phoenix Sky Harbor could offer travelers seeking intercontinental routes. Phoenix Sky Harbor has a compact footprint, and it will be even easier to navigate with the opening of the rail system that will connect each terminal. That will make a connecting experience far better than the mad scrambles of airports like LAX. That means quicker, easier connections and less stress. Sell that hard.
I will be out of the country starting next week until mid July. Feel free to contact me to further discuss a consulting arrangement. 

I’m curious: Why does Sky Harbor care what one blogger thinks about international flights” Why acknowledge me at all instead of crowing about the “new” British Airways flight”

I know attracting new routes and airlines isn’t easy. They don’t appear overnight with the wave of a magic travel wand. But … nothing new in seven years” Is this really the best Phoenix can do”

This post just might contain affiliate links. Fear not, they’re non-spammy and benign. Hey, I have to keep this thing running somehow!

By Wandering Justin

Writer. Traveler. Gastronomic daredevil. Fitness fan. Homebrewer. Metal dude \m/. Cat and dog lover.


  1. In all fairness, our lack of international flights might have something to do with PHX being an hour from LAX. Which is a third world hellhole, but has all the carriers for some reason…

  2. Ah, and that Third World hellholeness would be opportunity for a lot of hard-charging airline officials. SFO is also an hour from LAX. LAX also has higher fees (for airlines, that is) than Sky Harbor. But inertia rules the day. What traveler wouldn’t take a cheaper flight from Phoenix to avoid the morass of LAX and the Tom Bradley Terminal quagmire? Sky Harbor gets owned by every other airport (including itself 10 years ago), and they seem OK with it.

  3. So true. I would pay a lot of money to never see LAX again. The ladies’ room in the international terminal is a horror movie.

  4. At least our National Airline, British Airways sees the potential of Phoenix & Sky Harbour. Personally I love flying into both Phoenix & Denver compareed with the likes of LAX, Atlanta, Houston & Detroit although Cincinati isn’t to bad.
    Although if you compare some of your airports with our two biggies Heathrow & Gatwick your lucky as they are both hell holes unless you are flying in the right class and can escape!
    Have a great trip to the land of the Vikings.

  5. Absolutely, Roy! I think just NOT being LAX or Detroit is a terrific piece of leverage. And I think you make a great point by saying “British Airways sees the potential …” This extra flight is really more British Airways’ doing rather than smart cultivation by Sky Harbor.

  6. i enjoyed this post immensely! way to stick it to the man. sky harbor will never win unless they learn to “believe in science.”

  7. I just found your post this morning after reading today’s news about the great non-stop fall fares to Iceland that are being offered from Denver and Seattle–both with metro populations smaller than the Phoenix area. The assumption is that 4.3 million metro-area Phoenicians will just fly to Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, Dallas, Chicago or other “nearby” airports that offer non-stop international flight connections. It angers me that we in Phoenix never seem to get a price break for doing this–plus the extra time and hassle it takes to make a connection from those other cities, when we should simply have more non-stop flights offered from Phoenix. I have seen US Airways flights to Mexico from Denver via Phoenix that were cheaper than boarding the flight here in Phoenix–presumably to compete against Frontier Airlines non-stop flights and pricing. US Airways would tell you that you are paying more for the convenience of having the non-stop flight from Phoenix–but that never seems to work in the reverse for us when we have to fly to other cities to take their non-stop flights. It’s a shame and an embarrassment to our city and airport that we have so few international non-stop flight offerings–much fewer even that many other cities with metro area populations less than ours. I strongly believe that Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix/Mesa Gateway Airport, the Arizona Office of Tourism, the Valley Convention & Visitors Bureaus, the Department of Commerce and local businesses who have an interest in the international market should all be more pro-actively and jointly promoting the Phoenix metro area to gain additional flights. If they do it right, they should also seek the help of national and local tour operators and travel agents to build attractive vacation packages to sell to consumers–and then also solicit help from the media and other public relations outlets (bloggers, writers, etc) to help promote these packages and destinations. It has certainly been a stagnant market–absolutely no progress has been made, and in fact we truly have gone backwards since we lost our former non-stop flights to Jamaica on Air Jamaica, to Germany on Lufthansa, and (way back) even to Japan on America West. I am a travel agent in Chandler–we and others would love to help sell and promote air-inclusive vacation packages once they are in place. I would love to research and see the programs conducted by other more successful cities that are obviously working for them, as our system certainly is not working for us. Perhaps I should become a private consultant too, and together we can bring more non-stop flights to Phoenix!

  8. Amen! I am traveling internationally every month. I have to catch flights from the above stated cities. Phoenix just doesn’t get how much money they are really losing. More international flights will also bring more businesses into the city!!!!! It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out does it????

  9. You know it. I wrote this post before the US Airways/American Airlines merger, which adds an extra level of intrigue. I really wonder what will happen next …

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