The decision by Monterey Regional Airport officials to not notify passengers and potential passengers of the problems that caused some 50 flights to be canceled over the past week was irresponsible and inexcusable. From all appearances, it was a decision made with the airport’s bottom line in mind and with total disregard for the people that the airport is supposed to serve.
Though airport officials are blaming the problem on the Federal Aviation Administration, they acknowledge that they knew a week ago that there was a strong likelihood that flights in and out of the airport would be canceled. So what did they do? Did they alert the newspapers and TV stations? Did they suggest that the airlines notify passengers with reservations during the affected period?
Instead, they posted an understated notice on the airport’s Facebook page, which no one I know had ever looked at since the beginning of recorded history. They didn’t even provide the airlines with a complete picture of what was going on, so people returning here from all over the country booked flights that never had a chance of heading this way.
The problem was this. The airport is nearing the end of a major construction project that involves installation of concrete pads at the ends of the runways that are designed to stop aircraft that have overshot the landing strips. That project also involves adding and moving landing lights. While the lights were being worked on last week, the FAA ruled that the electronic navigational aids should be turned off until the safety of the remaining directional system could be tested. The FAA had previously said the electronic aids could remain in service, but it changed its mind. The testing didn’t occur until Monday and regular service was reinstated.
Did the FAA mess up? Maybe so. It certainly contributed to a terrible situation for many travelers. But it is the airport, and perhaps the airlines as well, that deserve the largest measure of blame for not letting people know.
It’s hard to come to any conclusion other than airport officials didn’t want to make a general announcement because many passengers would have changed their flight plans and flown in or out of San Jose or San Francisco. The airlines would have been upset. The airport would lose out on landing fees and possibly other revenue. That might have been a blow financially. But the inconvenience created for hundreds and hundreds of people completely trumps any other concerns.
Perhaps airport officials were banking on good weather. If there had been no clouds or fog, more flights would have been able to get in and out even without the electronic navigational aids. But anyone betting that there won’t be clouds or fog in August on the Peninsula is betting on a helluva longshot.
The airport tries its best year around to compete with metropolitan airports but it has driven a significant share of its clientele away with this stunt.
What needs to happen now is this. Airport officials need to apologize to those it so seriously inconvenienced and it should look for ways to compensate them in some fashion. The elected board of directors needs to conduct an inquiry into the situation and present a complete report to the public. And if the decision turns out to have been as calculating and boneheaded as it appears from the outside, those responsible should be provided with a one-way ticket out of town.