ALTOONA, Pa. (WTAJ)– With the holiday season here, our regional airports are about to see a surge in travelers.
These smaller airports can offer more convenience for travelers with shorter lines, cheaper parking and cheaper flights. Some have come into question though on the reliability of their service.
Less than a month ago WTAJ was contacted by a woman who said she had had a bad travel experience involving Contour Airlines, the airline that services the Altoona-Blair County Airport. Carol Wood was traveling back to central PA from seeing her family in Austin, Texas. All had gone smoothly on her trip until she got to the Philadelphia Airport for her connecting flight.
“They were using terminology like the flight has been canceled, or it’s just been delayed,” Wood said. “They couldn’t decide if it was delayed or canceled.”
Wood said that when she got to her gate, she realized that her flight had been canceled and the plane was redirected, all without any notification from the airline.
“There was only five or six of us to Altoona, so I was like wow you just canceled our flight and gave it to Plattsburgh,” Wood said. “There were three open seats. There was a couple that got two seats and then they were trying to arrange mine. They were having trouble with Contour changing it over or accommodating it I should say.”
Wood ended up getting stuck overnight in Philadelphia, and was not originally offered a voucher for her overnight stay. After complaining she was given a $120 voucher, not nearly enough to cover a hotel and food for the evening.
“Unfortunately, they didn’t find it necessary to offer me accommodation like a voucher of any sort,” Wood said. “They just said there’s hotels you can go up to the desk and call and see if you can stay at a hotel, whatever.”
When she went back to the airport the next morning she was told that there was another flight that she could take back, but it was also delayed. She would eventually make it back later that evening.
After hearing this story, we decided to examine the flight data out of the Altoona-Blair County Airport, but we didn’t stop there.
In fact, we examined the data from 987 flights over a three-month span, from August to November, from the Altoona, Johnstown, Dubois and Latrobe airports.
At the Altoona-Blair County Airport, out of 238 total flights, 36 were canceled and 111 were delayed. This means more than 46% of flights were delayed by more than 15 minutes and 11% were delayed by more than an hour, some for several hours.
At the Johnstown airport, out of 276 flights only 3 were canceled, and 74 were delayed, a 26% delay rate. Over 11% of flights were delayed more than an hour and 3% for more than 3 hours.
In Latrobe, less than 1% of flights were canceled out of 277 flights, and 22% were delayed. Eleven percent were delayed more than an hour, and only one flight was delayed more than 3 hours.
The data from the Dubois Regional Airport showed that out of 196 total flights 0 had been canceled. They did have a 26% delay rate with most of them, 16% delayed over an hour. Five percent were delayed more than 3 hours, with the longest delay being 19 hours.
After crunching the numbers, it’s clear that travelers through Dubois Regional Airport, serviced by Southern Airways Express, saw the longest delays. But the data still shows that Altoona-Blair County, serviced by Contour Airlines, had the highest rates of cancellations by far. Fifteen percent compared to the other airports that all had one percent or less of their flights being canceled.
Looking at the rate of delays, Altoona-Blair County again topped the list with 46% of flights being delayed. This is significantly more than Johnstown, DuBois and Latrobe, which range from 22% to 26%.
The rate of delays for all four of the regional airports was higher than the national average for the first half of this year, which was 20.8%.
“Through the year, we’ve seen our numbers consistently go up,” said the Manager of the Altoona-Blair County Airport, Tracy Plessinger.
The Altoona-Blair County Airport switched from Boutique Airlines to Contour Airlines a year ago. Plessinger says that while they are improving, they are experiencing the same challenges as other airlines.
“Contour has the same problems as all other airlines right now,” Plessinger said. “It’s staffing issues, a lot of it focusing on mechanics to maintain the planes. If a plane has a problem obviously somebody has got to repair that problem.”
Plessinger says that they have seen consistent improvement since they started with Contour and only envision that trend continuing. They offer jet service to Philadelphia twice a day, and with their busiest time of the year on the way, they want to reassure passengers that they are prepared.
“During the holiday season when the flights are fuller, there’s just more screening to go through, more people to get screened,” Plessinger said. “There’s more people to get checked in. Allow yourself an hour and a half instead of that hour before your flight.”
If you experience disruptions with your flights, the U.S. Department of Transportation has an Airline Customer Service Dashboard to ensure the public has easy access to information about airline commitments.