No this is not a golfing story. That smiling gent is indeed Arnold Palmer, one of the sport’s great and legendary figures, but this is about an airport that has a link to the links-man. The old Westmoreland County Airport, in Latrobe, near Pittsburgh, renamed itself the Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in 1999, to honour the sportsman who had grown up less than a mile from the runway. Palmer had watched one of the first airmail pickups, way back in 1939, and later learned to fly at the airport, still known by its code, LBE. Despite its rich history, LBE has not always been so wealthy in service, having lost US Airways Express flights by Mesa in July 1994, during the carrier’s bankruptcy. After a lot of solicitation and drumbeating, the county persuaded Northwest Airlink (flown by Mesaba with a 34-seat Saab 340) to start service to Detroit in April 2005. After a sometimes bumpy start, the code-share carrier is filling 70% of its seats and in fact is turning away passengers.
Not content with having such an enviable problem, the airport has begun a program it calls ‘No Passenger Left Behind’ (after the Bush Administration’s major education bill, ‘No Child Left Behind’). This guarantees a van ride to the Pittsburgh airport if a passenger is bumped from the Mesaba flight. Airport staff rebook the stranded flyer from Pittsburgh, says Palmer airport manger Gabe Monzo. He adds, “When it comes to air service, having too many passengers is admittedly not the worst problem you can have, but we do understand that it’s a major problem for the passenger who gets bumped from the flight”. No word what they’ll do if the airport gets a second carrier. And no need to worry about Arnold Palmer himself: a major contributor to charities around the country, he has long flown Learjets (and other upper-end aircraft) and is a licensed pilot.
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