BLAIR COUNTY, Pa (WTAJ)–Starting Wednesday, August 17th, folks can begin booking flights from Altoona to Philadelphia with the airport’s new carrier Contour Airlines.
Starting Thursday, October 1, Philadelphia will be the only destination from the Blair County airport. However, airport management and county officials believe the new carrier will greatly benefit Blair and nearby counties.
Contour Airlines offer connecting flights to American Airlines hubs, which is what Philadelphia is. Manager of the Altoona-Blair County Airport Tracy Plessinger said that customers are expected to have a similar traveling experience to major airlines.
The schedule plans to have two flights going out to Philadelphia daily. Plessinger said it’ll have one flight in the morning and one in the afternoon. That schedule will allow people to have flexibility when traveling.
“If you’re coming back into Philadelphia, they’ll be an opportunity to come in,” Plessinger said. “If you have an early morning flight into Philadelphia, you’ll be able to make that mid-morning flight back to Altoona. If your flight comes in later in the day to Philadelphia, you’ll be able to make that late afternoon flight to Altoona.”
The 30-passenger jet will have a full-service flight with snacks, beverages, and a bathroom. This jet will triple the current number of passengers that the current Boutique Air provides. Plessinger expects to have 35,000 travelers compared to their existing 20,000.
“It’s a faster, more comfortable flight cause you’re flying above the weather,” Plessinger said. “You’re flying at a much faster speed, and it’s just a more comfortable way of travel.”
The airport chose Philadelphia because of the extended services people can get from Philly airport’s 250 daily flights through American Airlines. Unlike Baltimore and Pittsburgh, where they currently fly, Philadelphia provides many flights to east coast cities.
Through past research, they determined that passengers that fly out of their airport are on connecting flights. Plessinger noted that only 15 to 20 percent of passengers going to Pittsburgh were terminating there.
“A vast majority of people are connecting to other cities,” Plessinger said. “That airport they’re flying to from Altoona is just a means to connect to the next flight to wherever you want to go. Philadelphia just offers a much more variety of flights, time, location, non-stop flights.”
For the first time, the airport will have one-stop connecting flights to international destinations, mainly in Europe. Blair County Commissioner Amy Webster believes that this deal will put a much-improved experience for residents.
“It’ll be quicker. It’ll be to a destination that’ll cut back,” Webster said. They may not have to make three changes; they may have to make two. So, that’s a good thing. We’re hoping this is a much-improved priority airline than we envisioned before.”
The funding for the airline will still come from the $4.2 million grant from the Department of Transportation. However, the airport will enroll in the Alternate Essential Air Service program, which gives the airport more control over its services.
Plessinger said they’re happy they no longer have the government controlling their flights. It’s now at the hands of the airport to find what’s the best services for their needs.
“It allows us to enter an agreement directly with the airline and work with them to provide the best service we can,” Plessinger said. “So we’re happy to be in the alternate EAS program, which brings more control to the local airport.”
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The airport looks forward to the public’s response to the airline change and service upgrade. The hope is to have flights to Charlotte as another possible option.