Cape Air to pull out of Rota

Daily Saipan-Guam flights to use jet

An airline that services Rota from Guam and Saipan would discontinue its services to the southernmost island of the CNMI effective May 31, 2018.

According to an internal communication to employees of United Airlines, Cape Air United Express, an express airline operating under United, would stop serving the Saipan-Guam, Rota-Guam, and Rota-Saipan routes effective May 31, 2018. Also, United Airlines announced internally that they would start serving the Saipan-Guam routes daily using a Boeing 737-800 aircraft with 16 seats in United Business, 42 seats in Economy Plus, and 108 seats in United Economy, totalling a 166-seat maximum capacity per flight.

The move, according to International Network Planning vice president Patrick Quayle, is in time for the airline’s 50th anniversary of operation in the Micronesia region. The communication indicated that the decision was made “based on customer feedback.”

“…Many have asked for aircraft[s] that offer mainline amenities and comfort, and that fleet type can operate more reliably regardless of Western Pacific weather conditions,” the communication noted.

It quoted Quayle as stating, “We are confident the new daily 737 service will provide our customers in Guam and Saipan with a better experience.”

The communication stated that the Saipan-Guam route would start with an aircraft departing Guam daily at 7am and arriving on Saipan at 7:45am. The return flight is scheduled to depart Saipan at 8:45am and arrive in Guam at 9:30am.

Saipan Tribune attempted to confirm the matter with United Airlines but they have yet to respond as of press time.

After learning of the news, Sen. Teresita Santos (R-Rota) told Saipan Tribune that the loss of a major airline serving Rota would be devastating, especially paired with the island’s struggling tourism and economy.

“Not only will such a drastic decision greatly affect our limited air passenger servce into the island of Rota, but will also greatly impact our economic development, including lost jobs for those who are currently employed by Cape Air/United Express, tourism, and potential developments,” she said.

“Consequently, on behalf of the people and leaders of Rota, I strongly appeal to United Airlines to reconsider its decision as the consequences of such a decision will negatively impact our island,” she added.

Santos plans to introduce at the session of the Rota Legislative Delegation next Tuesday a resolution urging the airline to reconsider the decision.

“…It is highly recommended that the leaders of Rota meet with United Airlines so we can address the matter at the soonest time available and ensure continuity of air passenger services to Rota,” she said in a statement, noting that the two remaining airlines servicing Rota were Star Marianas Air and Arctic Circle. Neither of the two airlines offer daily flights to Saipan or Guam, and Santos noted that there was often a lack of seats.

Arctic Circle Air, according to Santos, has unreliable flight schedules, while Star Marianas cancelled their Rota-Guam flights since Feb. 5 this year.

Santos did applaud United Airlines’ decision to use a bigger plane to service Saipan and Guam.

‘Less expensive to fly to Seoul than Guam’

Many residents of Guam and Saipan who were interviewed for this story were unsure of the impact of the decision.

“I don’t think I’m much of a fan of these changes,” said Lena Leishman of Hagatna, Guam. “I enjoyed the flexibility of the flights especially this last trip so I could fly quickly after work and fit in two days of diving before I fly back for work. The new flight times wouldn’t make it easy for a quick weekend trip.”

“I also kind of enjoyed the smaller planes. It’s a short flight, so comfort and space wasn’t ever a concern or need,” she added, noting that it was easier to embark and disembark a plane of that size.

Adam Walsh, of Capital Hill, Saipan, said that he was all for the decision if it meant more “reliable” planes.

“There have been numerous issues with Cape Air from Guam to Saipan. If this means we get bigger, more reliable United planes, then I am all for it. It appears competition has pushed some airlines out while allowing the opportunity for others to come in,” he said.

“It’s a terrible idea to just have one flight a day,” said Yogi Singh of Papago, Saipan after indicating that he liked the idea of a “bigger” and “more reliable” aircraft. “As a traveller to Guam for business, I will be wasting more time and money for those trips,” he said, referring to the new Saipan-Guam flights to be offered by United. He added the lack of afternoon trips will cost him “unnecessary overnight stays on Guam.”

Brad Ruszala of As Lito, Saipan, gave away all of his United One Pass Miles because he “couldn’t depend on the key component of all of my trips through Guam via Cape Air.”

“I hope the new jet will bring with it more reliability than what we’ve been forced to endure with Cape Air. While the new schedule and reduced seating will result in an adjustment for travel to and from Guam, we are still lucky to have low-cost flights to Seoul to accommodate our international travel needs. It’s less expensive to fly to Seoul than it is to fly to Guam,” he said.

Sen. Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) sent a letter dated April 16, 2018, to United Airlines Asia region managing director Sam Shinohara requesting to negotiate the pull-out.

“I would like to sit down and discuss this matter further with you and other executives of United Airlines and Cape Air,” said Manglona in a document obtained by Saipan Tribune. Manglona added that he remains confident that they could find a solution that would be “beneficial to both your company and the CNMI, particularly Rota.”

“The leaders of Rota and the CNMI are pursuing new avenues to promote tourism on Rota, and with the one less airline company servicing [Rota], our efforts to bring tourists to the island will be hindered,” Manglona wrote. “…The residents of Rota will be greatly affected by the discontinuance of Cape Air’s service,” he said, adding that Cape Air has been servicing the island since 2005.

“Not only did [Cape Air] create jobs on the island, but the tourism industry was able to stay afloat. For this reason, I respectfully ask that your company to reconsider its decision to discontinue Cape Air’s flight service to Rota,” he said.

According to Santos, ending services for Rota in June is “untimely” as June comes with “a lot of activities such as graduation and people going on vacation [to and from Rota].” (With reports from Bea Cabrera)

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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