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What Happens When Commercial Air Service Returns to a Small U.S. Town

Jun 01, 2014 6:00 am

Skift Take

The last four months in Jamestown highlighted why small towns across the U.S. fear losing regular commercial air service during mergers: it makes it more expensive and time intensive to travel without regular service.

— Samantha Shankman

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Cliff  / Flickr

A SkyWest jet is prepared for new passengers. Cliff / Flickr


When the first 50-seat jet airplane from United Airlines takes off around 1:15 p.m. June 5 from the Jamestown Regional Airport, it will signal the return of regular commercial passenger airline service to the airport for the first time since February.

Brandi Van Gilder, owner of Jamestown Travel, said she is looking forward to having reliable passenger air service back in Jamestown.

“The lack of commercial service has not affected our business,” she said. “It has not been convenient to our clients to not have an airline service to Jamestown for the past couple of months, but they have traveled to airports in the surrounding area.”

Having a jet passenger airplane service through a major carrier like United Airlines has provided a bonus for Van Gilder and the business’ customers. United Airlines is providing full code share through SkyWest Airlines. Full code share means people will be able to book flights out of James-town through United’s website and through third-party travel websites like Travelocity.

What this means for Van Gilder is that her business is able to offer more vacation package options for her customers. She said having flights to Denver International Airport will reduce air travel costs for customers.

“We have already been booking passengers at reasonable rates to Cancun, Phoenix, San Antonio and more,” Van Gilder said.

On Jan. 30, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded the Essential Air Service bid for passenger air service to Jamestown and Devils Lake Regional airports to SkyWest Airlines. SkyWest Airlines is a regional airline that contracts with major air carriers like United, Delta and American airlines to provide commercial passenger service to airports that receive EAS.

SkyWest will receive $3.22 million annually for providing EAS to Devils Lake Regional Airport and $3.12 million annually for providing service to Jamestown Regional Airport. SkyWest Airlines will provide 11 nonstop roundtrip flights on 50-seat jet airplanes from United Airlines each week between Devils Lake and Jamestown airport to Denver International Airport.

According to a schedule provided by Jamestown Regional Airport Manager Matthew Leitner, there will be two flights on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and one flight on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Flights from Jamestown to Denver will leave around 8:10 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and come back from Denver to Jamestown around 11 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Early booking numbers

Leitner said he has been receiving a weekly report since April from SkyWest Airlines showing the number of tickets booked on United Airlines’ flights out of Jamestown and Devils Lake airports for each month. The last report, issued Tuesday, shows that 909 tickets were booked for June flights between Denver, Jamestown and Devils Lake. So far 670 tickets have been sold for flights in July.

Leitner said the way that SkyWest’s system is set up he doesn’t know exactly how many tickets have been booked for flights just to Jamestown Regional Airport. Once flights resume to Jamestown Regional Airport, Leitner will be able to keep track of the number of passengers getting on and off the United Airlines planes for SkyWest Airline.

“We’ll have monthly reports like we used to with Great Lakes Airlines,” he said.

Jim Boyd, Jamestown Regional Airport Authority chairman, said he expects the monthly numbers to show steady increases through the rest of the year.

“We have had very strong support from our larger employers in the area,” he said. “They are all very happy we’ve taken that next big step and gotten jet airplane service.”

Comparable flight costs

Leitner said he is pleased with how comparable flight costs are between Jamestown Regional Airport, Hector International Airport in Fargo and Bismarck Municipal Airport in Bismarck.

Using the United Airlines website, United.com, the cost for a roundtrip flight between Jamestown Regional Airport and Denver International Airport, with the flight leaving June 27 and returning June 30, was $220 on Thursday afternoon.

The same flight booked for the same time period from Fargo was $525 and was $458 from Bismarck.

Using the United Airlines website to get a price for a flight from Jamestown to Dallas, Texas, with the flight leaving July 25 and returning Aug. 1, the cost was $477. From Fargo the flight was $524 and $456 from Bismarck.

Leitner said there are many factors that go into travel decisions. One thing Jamestown Regional Airport has going for it is free parking. Hector International Airport in Fargo and Bismarck Municipal Airport each charge for parking.

Boyd said before he retired he used to do a lot of travel for work. He would fly out of Jamestown as often as he could, but sometimes cost dictated flying out of Fargo or Bismarck. He said on top of paying for parking, there is also the consideration of facing a long drive after a long flight.

Getting ready

Since February, workers with SkyWest and United Airlines have been working to get the Jamestown airport terminal ready for daily use again. Leitner said new equipment, like a de-icing truck and a ramp that provides passengers easy access to the jet airplanes, are ready for next week.

“We are excited and ready for the jet service to begin,” he said.

Sun reporter Chris Olson can be reached at 701-952-8454 or by email at colson@jamestownsun.com.

(c)2014 The Jamestown Sun (Jamestown, N.D.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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