This week, all eyes will be on Charlotte as the city hosts the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Thousands of politicians, delegates, pundits, and general attendees will flock to the city to be part of the action. With delegates arriving from all fifty states, Charlotte’s Douglas International Airport will be the main entry point to the city.
Only a large airport with a strong route network and steady flow of air traffic could handle this influx of travelers. Right now Charlotte Douglas is just that, a major US Airways hub capable of bringing passengers to and from 130+ domestic and international destinations on nonstop flights. For most convention attendees, flying into the city will be quick and easy. However, this could all change if US Airways merges with American Airlines.
US Airways CEO Doug Parker has reiterated his commitment to Charlotte, saying in the case of a merger, the city will maintain its hub status and may even see an increase in daily flight offerings. This is music to the ears of local elected officials and the general public, but it is impossible to know what a combined US Airways-American Airlines would look like until the merger actually comes to fruition—if it ever does. Parker has made and broken similar promises before. After the 2005 Parker-led America West-US Airways merger, Pittsburgh was told it would remain an important part the combined carrier’s network. However, this was not the case, and Pittsburgh International Airport was hit with drastic service cuts and consequently became a less popular destination for travel and events. Overall, the region lost over 10,000 jobs as a result of the merger.
This makes one ponder — could Charlotte host a national party convention if it lost its hub status? Ease of access to the city was one of the many selling points that made Charlotte the Democratic Party’s choice. The city’s air transport infrastructure is well suited to allow for the hosting of such a major event, and undoubtedly played a role in securing the convention. If Charlotte was not a hub, I doubt it would have been chosen to host the DNC. With fewer flights and less competition, ticket prices would have been higher and travel to the city from many destinations would be longer and less direct. Looking back at the past eight party conventions since 2000, all were held in major airline hub cities except for 2004’s DNC in Boston and 2012’s RNC in Tampa. Access by air definitely plays a significant role in choosing the site of a national party convention.
Charlotte will be a great host to the DNC and I look forward to seeing the city on the national stage. In recent years Charlotte has emerged as a notable banking and technology center, and now it will play host to the one of the two biggest political events of the year. US Airways’ presence in Charlotte has been crucial to the city’s growth, and it would be unfortunate if any decline in air traffic stagnated, or even worse, reversed the city’s progress.