5 words for local air travel

Fellow Airport Authority member and Wood County Commissioner Blair Couch said it best at our meeting last week. I saw him start counting on his fingers. “I think we can convey the message in 5 words or less– Reliable jet service from PKB.”

For people that have flown out of the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport, the common theme is how convenient it is to drive a few miles from home to the front door of the airport, park for free and be on your plane without a long line or wait. This truly exemplifies the need for air service in smaller communities — we have customers in our community that opt to fly for work and play and they will support a local airport when it has “reliable” service.

What’s not convenient (and sadly happened far too often over the last two years) is unreliable service. That first time your flight is cancelled, either upon departure or upon return, it’s likely a deal breaker. And in my role with the MOV Chamber, I heard it more times than I want to admit.

I only had the opportunity to fly once with the previous airline out of PKB. It was in May of this year with my mom and my dad to Charlotte for my niece’s sixth birthday. How convenient that I could drive less than 15 minutes from my house in Vienna to the airport and be in Charlotte at my brother’s house in less than 2 hours? And for less than the cost of gas and depreciation on my vehicle! It was a great experience down (except for sitting beside a passenger who had only flown one other time and they kept grabbing my arm. Ok, it was my mom.) It was a little less “great” on the return flight – we were delayed a couple hours departing. Since we didn’t have a connecting flight or anyone relying on us to return at a specific time, it was relatively acceptable, but an annoyance none the less.

Reliable is a very important word in air travel. And as we learned during the process of selecting a new airline carrier for the MOV Regional Airport, it’s an important word for our new airline — Contour Airlines. They were quick to point out that “reliable” isn’t just a word they use in their marketing materials; besides safety, it’s the most important thing they have control of in delivering this service to its customers.

Contour Airlines began as a premier charter jet service. Flying celebrities and sports figures around the United States required them to be reliable. Who wants to tell a sports figure they will be late for the game? As Contour Airlines CEO Matt Chaifetz told our local media during the press conference on Oct. 24, “Some of those customers pay thousands of dollars an hour and when that’s the case, Contour can’t simply be late or not show up. The company plans to bring that same commitment to its commercial service here.”

“It’s no less important that we get you where you’re going,” he said. “We think that that is half the battle toward earning the trust of this community. You’ve got to show up. You’ve got to get people where they want to go.”

Contour currently flies routes between 13 airports – and starting Dec. 5, PKB will be Number 14 with 12 weekly flights to Charlotte, NC (CLT) as our hub destination. The schedule out of PKB will include two flights per day on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays (with a 15 minute stop in Beckley to pick up more passengers) and one flight per day on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Saturday flight will continue on to Tampa, Florida through March as a seasonal addition.

Contour reps shared many times during the press conference that $99 will be highest one-way fare passengers will see for our flights to Charlotte. (I just checked their website and entered info to book an imaginary flight from PKB to CLT on Jan. 25, 2019. There were a few seats at the Standard $39 rate, but once those were all taken, the next and highest price was the $99 Flexible rate.)

With completion rates on Contour’s routes in California, Georgia and Mississippi ranging between 98 and 100 percent, we are confident they will exceed our expectations at the MOV Regional Airport. Glen Kelly, manager for the MOV Regional Airport, shared why Contour was selected as the airline carrier – “Contour demonstrated dependability, reliability and affordability when looking at the other locations they already serve. Plus it worked out to bring jet service back to the area.”

Once you get to Charlotte (CLT), the world is yours to explore. According to their website, Charlotte Douglas International Airport is the sixth busiest airport in the world, offering more than 160 nonstop destinations around the globe. CLT is served by seven domestic carriers and three foreign flag carriers, with more than 700 departures and landings each day. As American Airlines’ second largest hub and the second largest airport on the East Coast, CLT connects passengers to exotic locations throughout the world.

We are optimistic Contour Airlines priority task of securing an “interline” agreement will happen soon. An interline agreement allows travelers to book flights from PKB to other destinations, using CLT as a connection hub.

Let me explain it this way.

Until the interline agreement is finalized, if you are flying from PKB to New Orleans, using Charlotte as your connecting hub, you’ll need to 1) book your flight from PKB to CLT on Contour and 2) book a separate flight on American Airlines (or Expedia, Travelocity or other website) from CLT to New Orleans (MSY). The important part of this interim process is to allow time to get your luggage from Contour and have it rechecked at the American Airlines booth so that they can tag it for their system and get it on your next flight. This extra step ends as soon as the interline agreement is locked in and the process becomes seamless.

So, pardon the pun, we know we have a lot of ground to make up to overcome the last airline carrier that served the MOV Regional Airport. I feel strongly that we have the right partner in Contour Airlines to make that happen.

And how will Contour ensure reliability for the customers flying out of PKB? Simply put, they added it in their contract to meet a 95 percent completion rate. Airport Manager Glen Kelly shared, “I am not aware of any carrier being willing to add this to a contract.” I think that says a lot about our new airline partner that they are committed to exceeding the customer’s expectations and getting them where they are supposed to be.

Please check out flights and pricing for Contour Airlines at contourairlines.com. You can also book flights with Contour by calling them at 1-888-332-6686 (Monday through Friday, 5:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and on Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. CST.) According to their website, flights booked by phone are subjected to $25 fee. Skip the fee by booking at www.contourairlines.com

Let me close with 5 more words — “Please give PKB another chance.”

Visit this space every other Sunday for more Chamber news. We also invite you to call us at 304-422-3588, email us at info@movchamber.org, or stop by the Chamber office at 501 Avery Street, 9th Floor in Parkersburg.

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Jill Parsons is the President/CEO for the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley.

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