Airport Authority sends complaint letter to SkyWest

Mike Sullivan and David Finigan were scheduled to leave San Francisco at 1 p.m. on Nov. 30.

But when the two Del Norte County supervisors landed at the airport from Orange County, their SkyWest connection to Crescent City had been delayed, so they waited.

Hours ticked by. Finally, after six hours, Sullivan and Finigan asked what was taking so long, only to find out their flight was canceled.

They finished the last leg of their journey home from a California State Association of Counties conference in Southern California via rental car, rolling into Crescent City at 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 1.

"I've had an occasional flight get delayed or canceled," Sullivan said. "But it seems to be happening more consistently lately. I've had lots of complaints from constituents."

In fact, the number of canceled and delayed flights and disgruntled passengers has grown to such an extent that on Dec. 6, the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority fired off a complaint letter to SkyWest.

According to the letter, 56 flights to Crescent City had been canceled this year through October. That's double the amount of flights canceled in all of 2011. Twenty-eight flights to Crescent City were canceled last year, according to the letter. The airport authority's letter also states that longer and more frequent flight delays can't be attributed to delays at San Francisco International Airport or the weather.

United, operating as SkyWest, provides three daily Crescent City flights with two non-stop flights to/from San Francisco and one to/from Sacramento International Airport (via Arcata).

The complaint letter is a first step, said Finigan, who chairs the airport authority board. The authority may follow up with a visit the airline's headquarters in St. George, Utah, to make sure Del Norte County is heard, he said.

"In San Francisco sometimes we are a low priority and that attitude needs to change," Finigan said. "It's disrupting our economy and we're going to start speaking very loudly about it. We'll be planning a trip back to St. George if we have to try to correct the situation."

The authority has been tracking its ridership ever since it received a grant to market the Del Norte County Regional Airport this year as a convenient place to fly into and out of, Finigan said. Using ads on the radio, in the newspaper and on buses and billboards as well as social media, the airport authority had hoped to grow a wider passenger base, but ridership is down, he said.

"It's not because people quit flying," Finigan said. "It's because people have no confidence in their schedule being met with flights out of Crescent City."

On Monday, a SkyWest representative questioned the airport authority's numbers, but was unable to provide immediate specifics. Company spokeswoman Marissa Snow did note that San Francisco has seen more extreme weather this year than last year. Construction at San Francisco International Airport has also affected the airline's gating procedure, Snow said.

"Anecdotally, San Francisco has seen a more challenging year weather-wise," Snow said.

Del Norte County Airport Director Jim Bernard could not be reached for comment Monday. In September, Bernard said whenever flights are being delayed out of San Francisco, Crescent City flights seem to be the lowest priority, resulting in increased cancellations during fog season.

As he and Sullivan waited at SFO for a plane that wasn't going to take off that night, Finigan said the flight's status didn't change from delayed to canceled until he and Sullivan decided to drive home.

"We watched the plane sit there and then they said we're waiting for a pilot," Finigan said. "The longer we sat there, we knew there's not going to be a pilot coming. It was very trying."

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