“We have the meats!” didn’t really work for an airline. Great Plains Airlines tried to break the mold of a regional carrier. The short-lived airline from the early 2000s tried to shake things up with food and Dornier 328 jets. The airline failed pretty spectacularly from a legal perspective but most travelers didn’t even notice.
Great Plains Was a local dream for nationwide service
Great Plains Airlines was based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It acquired the certificate of the second iteration of Ozark Airlines with the intent to provide service to both east and west coast destinations for the local Oklahoma population by flying regional jets to bypass major hubs. The short-lived Ozark Airlines flew out of Branson, Missouri. When the airline failed in 2001, Great Plains Airlines took a series of tax breaks from the state of Oklahoma and investments from local businesses acquire the operating certificate from the defunct airline and commence service under the Great Plains Airlines brand.
The airline grew rapidly, even if they lacked the infrastructure and aircraft to do so. The airline touted itself as a ‘hometown’ airline for both Tulsa and Oklahoma City. In 2002, the airline expanded rapidly to serve Colorado Springs, Nashville, Albuquerque, and the only non-stop service between Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
Just a year later, the airline later added BLV (Belleville-St. Louis), Chicago-Midway, and even announced Washington DC as they expanded from 2 aircraft to a total of 4 -328 jets and a single -328 turboprop.
Food: Great Plains Airlines’ Differentiator
The airline tried to differentiate itself with fast food. As major airlines cut back in the wake of 9/11, GPAir tried to add fast food to lure passengers. In the morning, they offered Krispy Kreme donuts and fresh fruit. In the afternoon, they initially offered Subway sandwiches, later switching to Arby’s market sandwiches. The airline also offered cookies, beer, wine, and soft drinks. It didn’t work.
Shut down in early 2004 but the legal battle with Great Plains Airlines didn’t end until 2015
Great Plains Airlines never achieved a profit during its short time flying. The airline’s goal of flying coast to coast was never achieved. Great Plains Airlines shut down in early 2004 but it was far from the end for the company behind the startup. The legal battle dragged on for years though after the airline failed.
When Great Plains Airlines started, they received up to $27M in financing to provide coast to coast service. That service never materialized. A number of local entities lost out when Great Plains Airlines went belly up. The City of Tulsa mortgaged property to the tune of $30M dollars to finance over $18M in loans to Great Plains Airlines that was never repaid by the airline. The local paper also invested in the airline in exchange for stock that was worthless. Other suits claimed that the airline was insolvent for more than a year while it continued to pull in additional investment money from multiple sources. Eleven years later, the flurry of suits were eventually settled.
Today, there is no service between Tulsa and the coasts. Tulsa is a mere spoke to major hubs like DFW, Chicago, Atlanta, and Charlotte. Oklahoma City has fared a bit better. Prior to the pandemic, airlines offered service to Washington DC, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, and Los Angeles.