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Tesla
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Posts: 178
Joined: Mon Dec 02, 2013 11:53 pm

BWI-LNS & BOS-PBG: Flying the "Essential Air Service"

Wed Oct 25, 2017 12:28 pm

BWI-LNS & BOS-PBG: Flying the "Essential Air Service"

Background: One day I was randomly looking at BWI departures and stumbled upon the flight from Baltimore to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Lancaster is a destination I'd been wanting to visit, so this flight caught my eye. What a fun way to go to Lancaster, I thought. Looking into it further, I found out the flight is part of the US Government's Essential Air Service, which subsidizes airlines to serve small or rural airports otherwise without commercial service. In fact the BWI-LNS route is often used as an example of the inefficiency of the controversial program! The US Government subsidizes service to LNS despite the close proximity of LNS to PHL. In my case, the subsidized fare was only $29 each way! I'm not sure what portion of the "actual" fare was being paid by the Government, but $29 would easily become my cheapest-ever flight. The flights are operated by Southern Airways Express using Cessna 208 light aircraft with a seating capacity of nine passengers. Having previously flown on these cool little planes with Mokulele around the Hawaiian islands, I thought it would be such a fun way to go to Lancaster! Sure, I'm based near ACY airport outside Atlantic City, New Jersey, so it makes very little sense to position to BWI to fly to Lancaster! To simply drive from my house to Lancaster would be easier, faster, shorter, cheaper, and more convenient than driving to BWI, not to mention the time it would take to park at BWI, check-in, go through security, wait at the gate, subject myself to delays, finally take the flight, and then rent a car in LNS! But driving there directly is no fun in comparison to such a crazy flight opportunity! In the end I managed to get a friend to accompany me, bought our $29 tickets and enjoyed the adventure.

Later in the year I found a second opportunity to try out the Essential Air Service. While planning a trip to Burlington, Vermont, I came upon a flight to Plattsburgh, New York, right across Lake Champlain from Burlington. This flight, BOS-PBG operated by PenAir using Saab 340s, cost approximately $73 - not as insanely low as $29 to LNS, but worth it to fly the unusual route of BOS-PBG on my first-ever Saab 340.

The controversial Essential Air Service might not be around forever, so the time was right to try out these unique flights for the first time. Please enjoy the reports, and I look forward to your comments.

BWI-LNS
Southern Airways Express 9X 0926
Departure: 10:05 (actual 10:59)
Arrival: 10:50 (actual 11:31)
Actual Block Time: 0h32
Actual Flight Time: 0h27
Cessna 208 Caravan

We arrived to the Southern Airways Express check-in counter at 08:35. We weren't surprised to find no line, and quickly met the friendly agent. I checked a bag and was happy to not be charged any checked bag fees. We were checked in and provided with nice cardstock boarding passes marked with TSA Precheck! I received sequence number 3, that means there was at least one more person on our flight in addition to my party of two! No private plane for us today. The agent weighed my checked bag, as well as our carry-on bags. (Passenger weight had been collected at booking.)

"Are you excited to fly with us today?"
Yes!

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We headed to the Precheck security line, well there was no line, and it was so nice to get Precheck, I definitely wasn't expecting it on Southern Airways Express. We headed to gate D37 in the far lower level. Boarding was set for 09:35 and departure for 10:05.

On the way to my gate I was happy to spot an Atlas Air 747-400, N465MC. My favorite plane, and much, much larger than the equipment for my flight today! And Atlas Air, a 747 operator with whom I've not flown.

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I found a nice seating area at the gate. Southern Airways Express N9536P was parked outside, due to operate flight 504 to Du Bois. In this area of gates, on ground level, you simply walk outside onto the plane.

At Gate D37:

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About to depart for Du Bois:

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I was very excited for this flight, my first-ever on the Essential Air Service program. And only $29 each way! You can't beat that price, and no checked bag fee either! It should be a cool little 68-mile flight. Come to think of it, it would be my shortest-ever flight!

At 09:40 our friendly gate agent provided an update that our aircraft had originated this morning in Pittsburgh, but it had been delayed. The aircraft then flew to Lancaster, and will now be coming to BWI. But due to the original delay, they haven't yet departed Lancaster for BWI. This was not really a problem for me, seeing as how this trip was pretty much taking place solely to fly. Shortly a fourth person arrived for the flight. The gate agent continued providing updates until the aircraft arrived to the gate at 10:35. N9481F would have the distinction of being my first-ever Essential Air Service airplane. N9481F is a Cessna 208 Caravan which was built in 1985. Having only flown on Cessna 208B Grand Caravans before, that means N9481F also has the distinction of being my first-ever Cessna 208 Caravan! And as a fun fact, in 1997 the aircraft was involved in an incident in Alaska where it ran off the runway while landing in heavy rain. At least today the weather is fair; it had rained earlier in the morning but now the rain has stopped.

Arriving to BWI:

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For size comparison as a Delta MD88 (N939DL) rides past:

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The four of us were invited to board at 10:55. The copilot walked us out to the waiting plane, "sit anywhere you like!" I took 2A. Well, I guess it's 2A, there were no seat numbers, but it was the second row behind the pilots on the left-hand side. There were nine seats, each with overhead light and vent, safety card in pocket, and three-point belt. The aircraft had very large windows, plus the view out the front. The seat was comfortable with decent legroom.

During boarding:

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Safety card:

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The view from 2A:

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We were given the safety briefing and then the engine was started on-stand. At 10:59, we were off. We had a quick taxi to Runway 33R for our takeoff at 11:02. We actually seemed to have decent power and pushback into the seat. We had a short roll and were already airborne. It was pretty windy on initial climb.

Climbing into the clouds:

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We quickly climbed to our final cruise altitude of 5,000 ft. Normally a flight at these low altitudes would offer excellent views, but today they were all obscured by the clouds.

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I enjoying watching the pilot's gauges. For example, one gauge showed the fuel consumed in pounds. After about 20 minutes in flight, we were at 130 pounds of fuel consumed. Every 10 seconds another pound was consumed. I was also watching the clock and flight timer, timing the flight from when taxi began. And I was also watching the inflight moving map...that is, the captain's navigation instrument! And then I noticed we were already down to 3,000 ft, before I had even noticed we were descending. It was windy on the descent just like the climb as we went through the cloud layer. It's always exciting to have the small plane you're flying on be blown about! Shortly the runway was in sight, straight ahead. The last five minutes, though, were quite bumpy and were just starting to test my resistance to motion sickness, but then we came in for a landing at 11:29. We parked on-stand outside a very nice-looking terminal building; it looked like Bass Pro Shops. The gauge had just turned over to 173 pounds of fuel consumed for the flight.

In LNS:

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We were escorted into a very cute and nice, new-looking terminal. The two checked bags from the flight were personally walked in and hand-delivered. It had been a very fun experience!
 
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Tesla
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Joined: Mon Dec 02, 2013 11:53 pm

Re: BWI-LNS & BOS-PBG: Flying the "Essential Air Service"

Wed Oct 25, 2017 12:29 pm

LNS-BWI
Southern Airways Express 9X 0925
Departure: 11:00 (actual 11:06)
Arrival: 11:45 (actual 11:44)
Actual Block Time: 0h38
Actual Flight Time: 0h29
Cessna 208B Grand Caravan

After a fun weekend in Lancaster it was time to head home to New Jersey via BWI. We arrived at Lancaster Airport at 09:25, admittedly a bit early to arrive for a flight like this, but my travel companion likes to be early. In fact we were pretty much the only people in the terminal, with not even any TSA or airline employees to be seen! The flight was showing as on-time. We had a long time to relax in the most quiet of airport terminals. By 10:15 the rest of today's passengers had arrived making a total of five passengers.

LNS Airport:

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I checked in at about 10:20, again with a very nice agent. My checked bag and carry-on bag were both weighed, I was again charged no checked-bag fees and was then given a cardstock boarding pass. The boarding pass indicated 10:30 for boarding, and 11:00 for departure. I was sequence 2 this time, even though I was intentionally the first one checked-in here! It really isn't easy to be sequence 1! If not on this tiny flight, then I'm not sure when I'll ever get sequence 1! Turned out that sequence 1 went to the connecting passenger originating in Pittsburgh.

TSA had one small security screening area which was not yet open. I thought it was really a very relaxed experience traveling this way, only six people on the flight, no extra fees, no lines, no crowds. Very pleasant. And the fun of flying on a tiny prop plane! It was a beautiful day today, sunny and about 70 degrees. A great day for a prop plane flight to Baltimore.

N10JA arrived at 10:40 from PIT. Built in 2002, N10JA is a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan. While I'd previously flown on two 208B Grand Caravans before with Mokulele Airlines, I was pleased to fly on two different aircraft types with Southern Airways Express, something I hadn't expected for the short BWI-LNS sector.

In LNS:

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Security opened shortly, and the five of us were through by 10:50. The airplane was waiting right outside. We had a short wait in the very small sterile holding area post-security, and were then invited to board at 11:00. We were escorted out to the plane and found one person already onboard. I took the third row, right-hand side this time, call it 3C. The 208B Grand Caravan is a larger plane, but had the same seating configuration. It was a very comfortable seat, narrower this time but of course no one beside you. The seat had good cushioning and good legroom. We had the safety briefing, the engine was started, and we were under way at 11:06.

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We were to takeoff from Runway 31, the same as our arrival runway the other day. We held short a few moments for an arriving airplane, then proceeded up to the runway. We slowly turned onto the runway, looked like it was going to be a takeoff from a stop. At 11:11 the captain advanced the throttle pretty far while standing on the brakes, then suddenly released the brakes, pushing us all back into our seats and we're off like a race car accelerating down the runway until we smoothly lift off. A fun takeoff! We quickly climbed up to our cruise altitude of 4,000 ft.

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While we were able to get much better views this time, it was again a bumpy flight so far, indeed you really feel it in these small planes. The flight was very scenic over the Susquehanna River, farmlands, and the Baltimore harbor. But there was not a smooth segment, it was constantly bumpy. The flight was trying my resistance to motion sickness even more this time.

We had a steep descent and were on 33R at 11:40. We parked outside D37 like last time at 11:44. I was honestly glad the flight had ended because it was way too bumpy, and I was starting to feel quite awful. While the flight had been worth it, it had unfortunately been too nauseating to be fun. We headed inside to baggage claim. Southern Airways Express wasn't listed on the board but an employee directed us to Carousel 11 which was marked for Allegiant. Shortly the carousel started up solely so my bag could come out!

For a trip to enjoy flying on light prop planes for ridiculously low fares, I would recommend Southern Airways Express. They have good service, friendly employees and offer a wonderful, stress-free experience. But I do have to mention that being able to count on their schedule (to make a connecting flight, for example) is easier said than done. I booked our tickets only three months in advance. By the time I flew, my itinerary had been subject to three schedule changes. My outbound was changed by 3.5h total and the return by 1.5h. Perhaps that's nothing out of the ordinary for any airline, but Southern Airways Express kept the schedule changes coming almost up till the point of departure, with the final change made to my outbound only one day in advance, and the final change made to my return a mere 12h in advance. On the one hand, since they seemed to know by such a late time that the flight would not be operating on schedule, it was thoughtful to inform me in advance by means of a schedule change. On the other hand, it's really not appropriate to have schedule changes so close to departure, as in the end, you really can't count on their published schedules. For me it had all worked out fine, but it's definitely something to keep in mind.

With a little less time flexibility for my next Essential Air Service flight with PenAir, I was hoping for a more reliable schedule this time. Please continue with the next post for a review of my PenAir Saab 340 experience.
 
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Tesla
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Joined: Mon Dec 02, 2013 11:53 pm

Re: BWI-LNS & BOS-PBG: Flying the "Essential Air Service"

Wed Oct 25, 2017 12:30 pm

BOS-PBG
PenAir KS 0267
Departure: 15:55 (actual 15:52)
Arrival: 17:05 (actual 16:59)
Actual Block Time: 1h7
Actual Flight Time: 0h51
Saab 340

My day began in New Jersey on a United B737-900ER, flying EWR-BOS. I arrived Boston Gate B20 fifteen minutes early, giving me just over 4h until my PenAir flight at 15:55.

My United B737-900ER, N69830:

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I had booked my entire itinerary, EWR-BOS-PBG, on Expedia, and was ticketed on United 016 ticket stock, but United couldn't check me in for PenAir. After spending time at Cisco Brewers and the United Club, I headed landside to the PenAir check-in, fortunately in the same terminal. There was obviously no one checking in for PenAir. I walked up to counter, asked for a window seat, and was given 8F on a nice cardstock boarding pass. I immediately noticed that TSA Precheck was not on offer, contrary to my surprise with Southern Airways Express. Nevertheless I found no line for non-Precheck security, making it not much of a bother. I was quickly airside again, this time to Gate B9 on the lower level. I was at the gate by 14:55. Boarding was set for 15:25 and departure for 15:55. There was plenty of seating, and not very many passengers. So far, another nice, relaxed experience.

My aircraft was already waiting outside. N364PX, built 1991 and formerly flying for Northwest Express Airlines and Mesaba, had the distinction of being my first-ever Saab 340. At the next gate, PenAir was preparing to fly to Presque Isle, Maine, with N365PX.

In BOS:

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As I waited in the terminal, I was looking forward to another Essential Air Service experience, and to trying the Saab 340 aircraft for the first time. Come to think of it, I've quite enjoyed flying prop planes this year - the C208 and C208B with Southern Airways Express, the SF340 with PenAir, and both the Dash 8-100 and Dash 8-300 with Piedmont/American Eagle. Prior to this year, I had only ever flown the two C208B flights with Mokulele in Hawaii, and that was back in 2013. Now five prop flights in 2017 alone. 2017 was definitely the year for prop planes.

At 201 miles, this wasn't going to be a long flight, but it was to be my longest so far on a prop plane. Other milestones included my second Essential Air Service carrier, my first time on PenAir, a new aircraft type, and obviously my first time to Plattsburgh International Airport.

"PenAir, in partnership with Alaska Airlines, will now begin boarding." At 15:35, all passengers were called to board. Nobody had lined up in advance, very nice.

During boarding:

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I was the second onboard. I headed to my seat, 8F, a window seat right behind the wing.

Seats 8DF:

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The Saab 340 offered 1-2 seating, with seats A-DF. 10 rows of 3 seats across equals 30 seats. Today's load was 20/30. All the single 'A' seats were filled, but here on the two-seat side, I had no seat mate. There was no overhead at all above the 'A' seats, and only a very small one above the 'DF' seats - but with no door on the compartment. There were no window shades. The Alaska Airlines Beyond magazine, and also Do North magazine, were in the seatback pocket. I found very, very generous legroom; I have to say it was more than typical domestic first class. The seat was also of above average width for economy. The seat anchor was adjacent to the wall - make that mounted onto the wall - but I had plenty of space with this much legroom. And no seat mate - this is really a spacious and comfortable seat! I had no expectation, but these seats exceeded my expectations! I did notice, though, that only the rows behind the exit row had this much legroom. The forward rows, and even the exit row itself, had considerably less - more akin to economy than the first class space that I was fortunate enough to get.

Legroom shot:

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Overhead panel:

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Safety card: Final assembly of this airplane was completed in Sweden:

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The flight attendant announcement welcomed us aboard and advised the storage of carry on luggage. Our flight time was to be 55 minutes to 1h, and we were just waiting on final paperwork. The exit row briefing was given two rows ahead for the gentleman in 6A.

The view from 8F:

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The flight attendant began the briefing for the safety features of our Saab 340 aircraft. There was only one flight attendant on this flight. Engine 2 was started on-stand, and then the entry stairs were put away into the front bulkhead and the door was shut. Pushback was at 15:52. Engine 1 was started before we began to taxi.

Our takeoff was after a Southwest B737. At 16:05 we began to takeoff from a stop. It was very quiet before the props spooled up, and then it was nice and loud, with overheads rattling as we rolled down the runway. It was a quick takeoff roll and we were airborne. Our takeoff and climbout was right over downtown Boston, offering great views and a very loud climbout. My loudest prop plane so far during climb. In fact I don't care how loud people claim the MD80, MD90 and B717 are in the back seated adjacent to the engines. The Saab 340 on the window in row 8 has them all beat! It was pretty deafening, and the first time I'd ever thought that ear plugs wouldn't be a terrible idea. For me personally, though, I decided to enjoy the experience as part of the charm of the Saab 340. No complaints so far.

Climbing over Boston:

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At 10,000 ft the seat belt sign was left on, and there was an announcement about inflight service. Complimentary Diet Coke, Sprite, orange juice, water and coffee, along with cookies and pretzels, were on offer. It was nice to get inflight service on this sub-1h flight. Service began front to back from a small trolley. The captain shortly announced that we had arrived to our cruising altitude of 12,000 ft. He provided some details about the route which were very hard to hear due to the engine noise. The seat belt sign was switched off. At this point we were only in flight for 20 minutes, but we were going to start descent in 10 minutes.

The seat belt sign was quickly on again as my snack was served: water with pretzels.

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Our cruise was decently bumpy, not bad like my Southern Airways flights, but above average. Mainly though it was just so loud! Very unique, I must say. And a consistent vibration in the seat. But of the two, noise and vibration, noise was a clear winner.

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Turning around to land at PBG:

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Most of the descent was pretty gusty and bumpy. I guess since the Saab 340 is much bigger than the Cessna Caravan, it was not unpleasant, but still noticeable because overall it's still a small aircraft. We flew past the airport into a tight turnaround to land to the south. Landing was at 16:56. It finally got quieter as we made our taxi into Plattsburgh International Airport. We arrived on-stand at 16:59. The engines were shut down - it was finally quiet onboard, but my ears were still ringing and couldn't comprehend the quiet! I know it sounds like I'm exaggerating or complaining, but I'm not - my ears really were ringing and it really was that loud.

We were delayed onboard as the gate checked bags were brought out for collection planeside, then we doboarded down the steps and into a ramp which lead into the jet bridge into the terminal.

In PBG:

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Plattsburgh terminal:

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This flight ranks at the top of my most comfortable economy flights ever. And it also ranks, by far, as my loudest flight ever. It was a fun, comfortable experience well worth the trip. It's so easy and convenient to fly with only a handful of other passengers into a small airport. I would certainly recommend PenAir for a fun, unique flight, and I'd be happy to fly with them again. With ear plugs next time.

Interestingly, my flights on this itinerary, EWR-BOS and BOS-PBG, were both exactly 201 miles each. For my flights today, on the United B737-900ER and the PenAir Saab 340, I clocked my gate-to-gate time at 1h for United and 1h7 for PenAir, and time-in-flight at 42 minutes for United and 51 minutes for PenAir. Neither had any holding patterns or delays. Clearly the jet is going to be faster, but for such a short flight, not by much.
 
jeffrey1970
Posts: 1407
Joined: Sat Apr 07, 2001 1:41 am

Re: BWI-LNS & BOS-PBG: Flying the "Essential Air Service"

Wed Oct 25, 2017 1:35 pm

This Summer I flew from Johnstown, PA to BWI and back on Southern. I loved it, and I plan on using it again. I understand what you said about the EAS being inefficient, because Southern also flies to Pittsburgh from Johnstown which is a two hour drive. On the flight to BWI I was the only passenger.
God bless through Jesus, Jeff
 
evank516
Posts: 339
Joined: Wed Mar 01, 2017 12:15 am

Re: BWI-LNS & BOS-PBG: Flying the "Essential Air Service"

Wed Oct 25, 2017 2:00 pm

I once flew to LNS privately with some friends on board a Mooney M20J. Flew FRG-LNS. If you ever decide to do BWI-LNS again, I'll recommend the restaurant in the terminal. Good food! Also, there is an IMAX theater across the streeet, or at least there was back in 2012. Just in case you wanted something to do. The terminal in LNS is very nice, very quaint. I really got a kick out of it!
 
debonair
Posts: 2988
Joined: Sat Jan 03, 2004 10:50 pm

Re: BWI-LNS & BOS-PBG: Flying the "Essential Air Service"

Fri Oct 27, 2017 11:16 am

I would certainly recommend PenAir for a fun, unique flight, and I'd be happy to fly with them again.


Nice TR, always great to read from such "exotic" airlines...
Let's see, how long you will have the chance to fly - their company's hubs in Portland, Oregon, and Denver are already closed after the Chapter 11 filing. Only Boston and Alaska stay strong!
 
opticalilyushin
Posts: 418
Joined: Tue Oct 22, 2013 6:35 pm

Re: BWI-LNS & BOS-PBG: Flying the "Essential Air Service"

Sat Oct 28, 2017 7:27 pm

Nice report. I was booked to fly with these guys from Baltimore-DuBois-Pittsburgh this summer, but the flight was cancelled on the day of travel due to pilot shortage :(
 
DeltaRules
Posts: 4107
Joined: Sat Sep 01, 2001 11:57 am

Re: BWI-LNS & BOS-PBG: Flying the "Essential Air Service"

Sat Oct 28, 2017 8:20 pm

Thanks for this! I can't help but notice how the Caravan's safety card looks like those Delta used in the 1990s and early 2000s

Your views at BOS are familiar, too. I saw a flight leaving to PBG a couple years ago while waiting for a US CRJ to PHL leaving B9A. I love basement gates.
A310/319/320/321/333, ARJ, BN2, B722/73S/733/734/735/73G/738/739/744/757/753/767/763/764/777, CR1/2/7/9, DH6, 328, EM2/ERJ/E70/E75/E90, F28/100, J31, L10/12/15, DC9/D93/D94/D95/M80/M88/M90/D10, SF3, SST
 
mtnwest1979
Posts: 1963
Joined: Fri Nov 18, 2005 4:23 am

Re: BWI-LNS & BOS-PBG: Flying the "Essential Air Service"

Tue Nov 07, 2017 3:56 pm

Nice report. I enjoy these small time operator reports over anything else .For the express purpose of flying a 402 for the first time about 10 years ago, I took Cape Air STL-MWA-STL on a quick overnight jaunt. As a result of a mx issue on the return, Cape gave us MWA boarding folks free r/t ticket anywhere they flew. This was due to the 'inconvenience ' of combining us with a Cape Girardeau-STL flight. Heck, I was thrilled to get an additional airport in my list LOL. Used that ticket for a BOS-Rockland,ME trip.
Also have done Contour/CFM BNA-Tupelo for a day ($25 RT!), as well as Air Choice One STL-Jonesboro,AR rt for a day. That was way up there at $40 rt.....
Hopefully will get a SF340 soon in Florida if all times out right. But who knows.
Great reading your report.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

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