It’s hard to listen to the happy talk and the deep denial of Airport Authority officials in the face of decisions by Delta Airlines to cut flights here, but it’s even harder to listen when we’re booking a flight to Cincinnati in two weeks that will cost a ridiculous $730.

That’s why an email from a reader was particularly timely.  Here’s what MSJ write:

Does anyone at Smart City care that we are loosing our hub and that in turn is driving commerce out of the city?

O.K., so here is a story line that if you could follow up on, it would be a big help to the Memphis community – Memphis International Airport is loosing passengers – our current trend lines are down a whopping 19% for June 2010 vs. June 2011 – and this is before the coming Delta September service cuts.

Many airports in our region are seeing increased or stagnant traffic patterns, but even looking at other Delta hubs where significant flight reductions have taken place, i.e. Cincinnati, whichonly saw a 11% reduction in June traffic year over year.

Why is this important? Because Memphis International has little O/D (origination and destination) traffic – our lifeblood is connecting passengers to their finial destination. The airport collects passenger-landing fees each time a passenger lands or departs from the airport. Healthy connecting traffic supports the airports bottom line and feeds concessions and other revenue-generating enterprises at the airport.

Over the past year, several stories in The Commercial Appeal about Memphis Delta flight reductions have made the point that connecting passengers are making a conscious decision to connect through another Delta hub – in effect avoiding Memphis.  On the surface, Memphis International has a compelling story to tell – a no hassle, on-time smaller facility that can get you to your connecting flight seamlessly.

My question is: why don’t we market that fact to the regions business and leisure travelers?

Additionally, several airports around the country are competing for passengers – for example – Raleigh just opened a non-airline affiliated club so that people who do not have a airline elite club membership can visit for a small one-time fee to access the web, get free drinks, snacks, etc. Atlanta, in partnership with Delta, just opened a kid’s space where kids will find games and other activities during their connections. Also, most of our peer airports have a USO club for military members and their families. But not Memphis.  Cincinnati just started a frequent traveler club where loyalty to the shops / parking at the airport will be rewarded with free perks.

Yes, we are living in a difficult economic environment. That is the number one reason for service and passenger reductions at MEM. But, other airports are thinking outside of the box – being creative, marketing their product and thinking of ways to attract connecting travelers.

Using the economy as an excuse to do nothing would get the CEO of a corporation fired. Why don’t we expect more from the Memphis Airport Authority? Considering the fact that the airport bond rating was recently lowered, the call to action should be now.