Song sponsors NYC 'hood

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As part of its effort to further distinguish itself from a cluster of low-cost carriers and lift its lagging load factors, Song Airlines has announced an unusual agreement to sponsor one of New York's hippest neighborhoods.

Hoping to attract the same influencers and trendsetters who make and break restaurants, nightclubs and retail stores, Song will become the official sponsor of the Meatpacking District.

"We're reaching out to both the neighborhood and to influential customers who either live in or frequent the area," said Stacy Geagan, director of public relations for Song. "There is nightlife there and designer stores that attract the kind of customer we want."

Financial terms of the agreement were not revealed, but the sponsorship cuts both ways. The newly formed Meatpacking District Initiative, an independent association of businesses in the area, will use Song's corporate dollars to expand awareness of the area's high-end retailers and restaurants while at the same time fending off developers looking to make the Meatpacking District more residential.

"We're thrilled with the alliance," said David Rabin, co-owner of hot nightclub/restaurant Lotus and member of the Meatpacking District Initiative. "We hope it leads to them having access to a pace-making kind of clientele. That's how we perceive the customer of the Meatpacking District. We're hoping to work them into a lot of initiatives going on in the neighborhood."

going old school

Joe Brancatelli, airline-industry expert, author and owner of the business travel Web site, said Song's ploy is actually taking a page from the way airlines used to promote themselves.

"Identifying yourself with a destination is the oldest trick in the airline book," Mr. Brancatelli said. "You try to insinuate your brand with a place people want to be. Song is looking for a rub-off effect of the people who promote their issues in the Meatpacking District."

Song, whose parent company is Delta Air Lines, will not have any formal signage in the neighborhood. It will have a presence, though, on several other initiatives. The Song logo will be on a map of the Meatpacking District to be sent to thousands of travel agents across the country and to concierges at New York hotels.

Next month, Song will cater a benefit for DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS) with the airline's food. Also, Song will sponsor a competition among the Meatpacking District's nightclub bartenders to come up with the next signature cocktail for the airline. Song offers a signature drink on-board and changes it every quarter.

The deals were brokered by Song's public relations firm, Dan Klores Communications, New York. "I think these things are pretty buzz-worthy," Ms. Geagan said. "It will be organic from there. The people who are frequenting these events will, hopefully, end up talking about Song."

Though compared by the press to JetBlue and other discount carriers, Song has tried to differentiate itself by billing the airline as "low-cost but high-style," as Ms. Geagan said. Its satellite TV service will include video-on-demand and 24 audio channels when completed in March; its flight attendants will begin wearing Kate Spade-designed uniforms in February; its food is made by a gourmet chef. And Song opened a store in New York this month where customers can purchase tickets, try the seats and even sample the food served on flights.

imperfect pitch

But through its first five months of existence, Song has had trouble carrying its own tune.

Despite fares that are sometimes cheaper than even JetBlue, Song's load factor, or percent of seats filled, for October was 70%, even lower than parent Delta, whose load factor was 73.5%. JetBlue leads the industry with load factor of 85.5%; another discount carrier, Spirit, comes in at No.2 with 84%, according to Aviation Daily.

American Airlines leads the industry in market share with 18% of all passengers, followed by United (16.3%), Delta (14.1%) and Northwest (10.1%). Southwest is the leading low-cost carrier with 7.3% of market share and JetBlue is at 1.92%. Song barely registers with less than 1%.

"I don't think this Meatpacking thing is good for their business. That's too far over the edge," Mr. Brancatelli said. "People fly JetBlue because their fares are low, their seats are big and you can watch TV. Song is trying to manufacture `hip.'"

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