Lack of direct flights means Indianapolis misses out

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There is turbulence in efforts to lure even bigger conventions to Indianapolis. The problem is a lack of direct flights into the city.

Industry forecasters say the airport's response could be a waste of time and money.

Weary business travelers want more direct flights in and out of the city. Ten routes have been cut, leaving 33 non-stop destinations. Most are high volume cities like Atlanta, Tampa, Washington D.C., New York City and Las Vegas.

"About half the time I can get direct, sometimes I play the game, whether I fly into Cincinnati or I fly into here," said Michael Sullivan, commenting on the flight schedule to Indianapolis.

"It's kind of hard to believe there's not more direct flights in," added passenger Paul Deconti.

Over the weekend, Southwest added a new direct flight from Indianapolis to Houston Hobby, but shut down its Chicago Midway connection.

Passengers aren't happy about the alternative.

"You see how tall I am?," said a very petite Rhonda Fontenot Johnson. "I hit my head. The plane, the little tiny plane. I'm, like, 'Oh my God, this is so small'," she said of the commuter flight she took to Indy Monday.

 See a chart showing changes to flights in several cities including Indianapolis.

For hundreds of other cities like New Orleans and Seattle, it's a scramble of connecting flights and airlines criss-crossing the country to get to Indy.

It's a problem for convention prospects..

"Instead of competing against cities like we used to 15 years ago, Louisville and Cincinnati. Now we're competing against Atlanta, we're competing against Chicago. These are cities that have a lot more non-stop service than Indianapolis. To stay competitive, the convention industry has told us that we need to make this more of a priority," Mike Huber, the airport's senior director of commercial en told Eyewitness News.

For the last two years, Indy has been trying to land a direct route from here to San Francisco, but that's still up in the air. With more airline mergers, the potential options are shrinking.

Huber says the airport is trying to convince airlines of profitable connections. But Michael Boyd of The Boyd Group, an industry forecaster, predicts the efforts won't fly.

"That's just a waste of time. Airlines know what Indianapolis can provide. You have San Francisco, maybe Seattle, maybe New Orleans, but other than that, you're running out of places. You can do all the surveys you want and all you're doing is throwing money away," Boyd insisted.

While Boyd and Huber agree Indy is faring better than other mid-sized airports, seats are still on the decline. Daily flights have fallen from 190 to 140.

"I would love if Southwest would you restore that route please?" said Fontenot Johnson in a pleading voice.

The changes clearly inconvenient, but marking a new reality at the airport.

Huber says they are working to cut costs and will compile data about possible future routes to prepare for a possible turnaround in the industry.