As of Monday night, Prescott is without commercial airline service.
In a surprise move, Great Lakes Airlines — Prescott’s longtime commercial carrier, which offered flights to Los Angeles and Denver — announced on its website that it would be suspending “scheduled flight operations as an air carrier” at midnight March 26.
Although the airline will continue to provide service between Denver and two South Dakota towns, it has instructed customers holding tickets in its other markets to seek a refund.
But late Monday afternoon, Prescott resident Jeff Leavitt was having no luck at reaching anyone at Great Lakes about his two roundtrip tickets to Denver in September.
Upon receiving a cancelation email, Leavitt said he immediately tried calling the Great Lakes call-center number and was met with a non-stop busy signal.
“Our whole Rocky Mountain National Park trip was planned around the convenience of flying from Prescott to Denver on Great Lakes,” Leavitt said of his September vacation. “We’re holding confirmed tickets (for a total of about $575), and now we’re scrambling to find another airline in Phoenix.”
NO NOTICE GIVEN
While city officials say they had heard some talk of Great Lakes’ difficulties, they say the airline gave no advance notice about the pending suspension.
“We had no idea that Great Lakes pulling out of Prescott was imminent,” City Manager Michael Lamar said.
Kathy DeFreitas, who serves as Great Lakes’ station manager at the Prescott Airport, said the news came as a surprise to her as well. “I’m as shocked as anybody,” she said late Monday. “It was something that came out of the blue.”
While Lamar and others expressed disappointment with the loss of commercial service at the Prescott Airport, they said the end result could prove to be positive.
“I think it’s a short-term loss, with the potential to be a long-term gain,” Lamar said.
For months, discussions have been underway at the city about the need for improved air service, and Airport Director Robin Sobotta said the city had already been in contact with several potential air carriers.
Although she declined to comment on which carriers were involved, Sobotta said she sees potential for improved service and larger aircraft.
Mayor Greg Mengarelli also referred to potential carriers that could step in. “Of course it’s disappointing to lose air service,” he said. “But it opens up the opportunity for us to move faster.”
Great Lakes has held the contract for Prescott’s Essential Air Service (EAS) federal subsidy program off and on since 2005. The current two-year contract was set to expire in April 2019.
Sobotta said she reached out Monday to the U.S. Department of Transportation about the possibility of conducting an emergency request for proposals (RFP), which she said could move up the new Essential Air Service contract process.
“It’s a generous subsidy, and I think there will probably be more than one (bidder),” Sobotta said.
Still, Great Lakes’ suspension will result in a months-long interruption of commercial service at the Prescott Airport. Sobotta said the RFP and contract process could take four to six months.
The website for the Cheyenne, Wyoming-based airline listed flights from Cheyenne; Denver; Los Angeles; Page; Phoenix: Pierre, South Dakota; Prescott; Salina, Kansas; Telluride, Colorado; and Watertown, South Dakota. The airline’s Monday announcement stated: “Although we are ceasing flight operations, it is important to note that the company has not entered bankruptcy and will continue to operate certain segments of the business,” adding that it would continue operating between Denver, Pierre, and Watertown.
Meanwhile, a news release from the city repeated Great Lakes’ instructions that customers seeking refunds should call 1-800-554-5111, or visit the airline’s website at www.greatlakesav.com.
Great Lakes’ corporate office in Cheyenne did not immediately return a telephone inquiry from the Courier.
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