"You can’t make the assumption anymore that that five o’clock flight out is going to be there like it always was," says Christine Duffy, president and COO of Philadelphia-based McGettigan Partners. "In the past, meeting planners didn’t give much thought to lift—they knew it was there. Now, before you get that meeting contract written up, you have to make sure you can get your people into and out of your destination within the prescribed amount of time."

What are the airlines doing to help groups who might have a problem? Take American in Palm Springs. "It’s smaller, certainly, but very popular among groups and for incentive travel," says George Coyle, product manager for group and meeting travel for American Airlines in Dallas "What we do there is offer extra sections—that is, another aircraft—that follows closely behind the scheduled flight, to ensure that a group can get in and out within its prescribed time frame."

American’s policy is that 60 percent of every flight is blocked for groups—a group being defined as 10 or more travelers. When need be, says Coyle, that percentage can be expanded. But key to making that happen is that planners give enough advance notice of their plans as is possible.

"As far as blocking goes, if a group can ensure that it will use the seats they say they need, and is willing to put up required deposit money, we can expand the percentage of group seats we make available on a given flight. The same is true if we need to upgrade the size of the plane for a particular flight to accommodate a group. We’re more willing to do that with longtime corporate or association clients, as opposed to new clients—but even with new ones. We want to get people back on our flights."

It’s the same at United Airlines which has cut flights system-wide. "We are willing to add extra sections for groups," says Juan Carlos Cruz, manager of industry relations. "I suggest that meeting planners call us way ahead of time when planning an event." Look for a full story in the May issue of Corporate Meetings & Incentives.