For Horizon Airlines, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, the Pendleton City Council's decision to drop them as the carrier of choice for the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport in Pendleton, Ore. came as a direct snub.
"It was small-town politics," said Horizon spokeswoman Jen Boyer from her Seattle office. "We've been there 26 years. . . . And the Pendleton City Council, at the urging of its airport manager, instead chose a nine-seat, single-engine aircraft."
If Horizon Airlines sounds like a spurned lover, there may be some reason. Horizon was the airport's sole carrier and received a $748,440 annual subsidy from the U.S. Department of Transportation to maintain an Essential Air Service Program. Boyer said the three-direct-flights-a-day route with its new fleet of Bombadier Q400s, 76-seat planes replacing the older 37-seat Q200s, didn't pencil out so Horizon requested a higher fee from the government. That led to an open bid for the service with Horizon competing with smaller companies like Portland-based SeaPort Airlines and the Hawaii-based Pacific Wings.
Although Horizon offered a $1.5 million option involving round-trips to Seattle via Walla Walla, its direct, nonstop Portland option totaled $3.2 million. The city, in a 5-3 vote, decided to go with the $1.6 million bid from SeaPort for a direct route to the state's largest city.
SeaPort said its company was a perfect fit for Pendleton. "We present the best opportunity to get those people back in the air," Chief Operating Officer Ken Craford SeaPort told the East Oregonian.
So, in way of a parting shot and with only five more weeks of their contract with the DOT, Horizon decided to use the new Q400s on its two Pendleton-Seattle daily flights to give Pendletonians a "taste of what might have been." The press release on the flights ending Dec. 1 touted the plane's roominess, Horizon's complimentary Starbucks coffee and ease of connecting flights. There was a reason Horizon pointed it out -- SeaPort, a private flier, isn't under the same TSA rules. It can't fly into the commercial airline terminal, nor can it provide tickets for connecting flights and it doesn't have flight attendants.
"However, these improvements will be available," the press release continues, "to those who take a short drive to catch the airline's Seattle-bound Q400 flights from nearby airports at Walla Walla and Pasco, Wash."
Boyer said seven employees will be affected by the closure, but will be given the chance to apply for other jobs with the airline.
What do you think -- classy or crass?
Photo of Q400 courtesy of Horizon Airlines