News: Neillsville (Low air fares 1983)

Contact: Kathleen E. Englebretson


Surnames: Oldham, Glassbrenner, Deno (Dino), Riedel, Grap, Meredith, Adams, Frahm

---Source: Marshfield News-Herald (24 June 1983)

NEILLSVILLE- When Rhonda Oldham and Cheryl Glassbrenner, both of Neillsville arrive in Austin, Texas next week, they will be greeted by the mayor and given the key to the city and, of course, a cowboy hat.

Why the red carpet treatment?

Oldham and Glassbrenner will be the first of approximately 300 Neillsville residents who were fortunate enough to get $648 airplane tickets to Austin for $64.80 because of a computer error.

Austin city officials and some Neillsville residents have decided to make the most of the error, to benefit both communities.

Stories about the mix-up have made the front pages of the Austin newspaper and Neillsville is becoming quite well-known in the central Texas community of 536,450. ABC News is expected to send a reporter to Neillsville next week to spread the story throughout the country.

Austin is no longer just the capital of the Lone Star State or the home of Willie Nelson. Now it's also the place where people from Neillsville, Wisconsin flock to vacation.

"We're just promoting the hell out of Neillsville and taking advantage of it (the situation," said Dick Deno, news director at WCCN radio in Neillsville, who has spent the past few days coordinating events with Austin representatives. "Sometimes it doesn't take a disaster to get your name on the map.

What has gotten the Clark County city of 2,700 on the map is a computer error and the speed with which news can spread through a small town. Employees of Midstate Travel, Northway Mall, had noticed the rock-bottom rate early in May, but word didn't get around until Kevin Grap from Neillsville overheard talk about the rate a week ago when he stopped at Midstate Travel.

By 2 p.m. that day, the agency's phones were "ringing off the hooks--literally. And it didn't stop." said Mary Riedel, partner-manager. Dina said he was the first of the Neillsville residents to get his tickets and the one who got the word out. Grap didn't take advantage of the mistake.

Before the error was corrected on Monday, 400 people from throughout Central Wisconsin had purchased tickets, some for trips as far off as April. Midstate and Continental Airlines have said they will honor the tickets even though they stand to lose approximately $200,00 because of the oversight that has been attributed to a national computer system that sends airline flight information to travel agencies.

In the week since the rate was uncovered, ties have developed quickly between Neillsville and Austin. Riedel, Dino and others agree that most people who bought the tickets aren't as interested in Austin as they are getting a cheap vacation, but the Austin officials aren't viewing the expected Wisconsinites with any less enthusiasm.

The Austin Chamber of Commerce has sent a box of brochures and maps, hotel and motel managers have offered low-priced accommodations Merchants and restaurateurs are planning specials and giveaways, and more maybe coming.

"A lot of this is just in the planning stage because it's only been two days," said Jean Adams of the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Plans are especially uncertain for people who'll be visiting Austin after the initial excitement is over.

"I think everybody is just kicking it around to have a little bit of fun. Why not?" Adams said.

"It's a nice story, Even though it's a mistake, it's a nice story. They're coming a long way for $64.80.

Dino said he was "flabbergasted" by the attention being shown by Austin officials who've promised to show their Neillsville visitors the time of their lives.

"It isn't going to make a dent in their economy, but boy are they rolling out the red carper," said Dino who attributed the interest to the expected and developing publicity.

"You can't buy advertising like that today." he said.

Dino said he's been on the phone continuously since Wednesday talking to Austin officials and reporters. In addition to the special treatment in Austin, some visitors will be taking Wisconsin cheese for Austin Mayor Ron Mullen and there's talk of a picnic next spring in Neillsville for all the Austin travelers and Mullen.

"This thing has snowballed unrealistically. It's unreal," said Dino, who will be leaving for four days February 4.

"I should have booked for a week for the way they want to treat us," he said. Oldham and Glassbrenner will be going to meet friends from Dallas, Unlike 90 percent of the people who have never gone to Austin without the lower rates, these teen-agers were planning to go anyway. The fact that they'll be saving nearly $200 over other flights they had checked, however, is adding to excitement about the trip, Glassbrenner said.

When interviewed Thursday, she wasn't aware of the welcome being planned in Austin.

Mary Lou Meredith, Neillsville, will be among the last residents to visit Austin, but she's no less excited.

"Everybody likes a bargain. That's human nature," she said. "I think it's pretty neat."

"It seemed like a pretty good deal. Where else can you go for $64.80."

At first, Meredith admits, she was skeptical about her fist trip to the land of cowboys and oil.

"In fact," I said, "Why do I want to go to Texas?" she recalled. In the end she decided the price was too good to reject.

"I want to see the Alamo and J.R.'s ranch. Other than that, I'm open to suggestions,"Meredith said. "I don't know where Mickey Gilley is, but I wouldn't mind seeing him."

Adams, Meanwhile, was planning to meet her grandparents- Mr. and Mrs. Bob Frahm from Athens- today at the Austin airport. She didn't hear about the pricing error until it had been corrected, so her grandparents paid $640 a piece for their tickets.



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