Call it the "JetBlue effect."
During the first quarter, 230,000 fewer people flew into or out of Los Angeles International Airport than a year ago, a drop of nearly 2 percent.
The airport taking up the slack was Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, where air passenger traffic shot up 8 percent to 1.3 million during the quarter compared to the first quarter of 2005. JetBlue Airways added nonstop service to New York from Burbank last summer.
"People are now more flexible as to where they want to fly in or out," said Wido Schaefer, president and chief executive of Los Angeles-based Travel Store Inc., one of the region's largest travel agencies.
The marketplace appears to be taking tentative steps towards the goal of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan to regionalize airport traffic even before that plan has fully emerged.
As part of a settlement agreement with communities surrounding LAX reached last November, Villaraigosa agreed to cap the number of flights and gates at LAX and to develop a plan to boost traffic at the two regional commercial airports the city owns: Ontario International and Palmdale.
So far, though, fliers haven't been increasing their use of other airports besides Burbank. At Ontario, passenger traffic held steady at 1.6 million during the quarter compared to the first quarter of 2005. Meanwhile, 35,000 fewer travelers went through Long Beach Airport the smallest commercial airport in the region during the first quarter, a drop of 5 percent. The main culprit: American Airlines began phasing out service, which ended completely last month. Palmdale Airport is on hiatus after the only airline serving there pulled out last summer.
Local air travel experts and industry watchers suggested that the LAX drop pointed to increasing frustration among passengers there and a willingness to try convenient alternatives. A key factor, they say, has been the addition of those JetBlue flights from Burbank to New York.
"Burbank Airport is a very desirable alternative to LAX for those in the San Fernando Valley or near the Valley," said Eric Maryanov, president of All Travel in West Los Angeles. "The problem until now has been that if you wanted to fly across the country to New York, there were no non-stop flights, so people went through LAX. Now, it's getting easier."
During the first quarter, 100,000 passengers flew JetBlue into or out of Bob Hope Airport; that alone accounted for the entire increase in passenger traffic. Some of the most frequent fliers on JetBlue are executives with entertainment firms in the East San Fernando Valley, said Jack Kyser, the chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. who keeps close watch over the air passenger figures.
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