Cape Air continues to attract more passengers with low fares, regular service

Monday, August 9, 2010
Passengers load onto a Cape Air plane leaving the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport on Friday afternoon. The airline offers four flights a day to St. Louis during the week. (Kristin Eberts)

When Chalhukya Reddy got off his Cape Air flight to Cape Girardeau on Friday, he was happy to see his luggage.

A native of India, Reddy is here to attend Southeast Missouri State University for two years. He finished two years at a Florida school in the spring and said he knows firsthand the frustration of lost bags.

Asked his opinion of the flight from St. Louis, Reddy didn't hesitate: "On a scale of one to 10? A 10," he said. "Everything was good. The people were good. The services were good. I am pleased. When they tell you your baggage will be there, then it is there."

Cape Air, a Hyannis, Mass.-based carrier begun as a commuter airline operating between Boston and islands off Cape Cod, arrived in Cape Girardeau in November with promises that it would revive the moribund commercial passenger service at the airport. The company won federal Essential Air Service subsidy contracts for Cape Girardeau as well as Quincy, Ill., and Williamson County Regional Airport near Marion, Ill., taking over from Great Lakes Airlines.

So far, a combination of low fares -- Cape Air charges $49 for a flight to St. Louis -- and four round-trip flights each weekday have proven attractive to passengers. In June, 368 people boarded flights bound for St. Louis. In July, that number grew to 397. During 19 months operating from Cape Girardeau, Great Lakes Airlines flew a total of 833 passengers.

Overall, Cape Air carried 2,066 passengers out of Cape Girardeau during the first six months of the year.

"Just in general it has been a real nice, refreshing difference from what we had prior to them coming here," airport manager Bruce Loy said. "So far, passengers seem to be happy with the service."

And Sandy Ladd, owner of Sandy's Place restaurant, said the successful passenger service has been a welcome addition to her business. She said she relies mainly on customers who come to the airport specifically to eat at her restaurant, but a growing portion of her receipts are people waiting for flights.

The first flight departs each weekday at 6 a.m., with other outbound flights at 10:50 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4:50 p.m. Inbound flights arrive each weekday at 10:21 a.m., 1:36 p.m., 4:25 p.m. and 9:10 p.m.

There is one morning flight out on Saturdays at 6:50 a.m., two returning flights and two round-trip flights on Sundays.

"Their flights are full a lot," Ladd said. "They are flying people out of here, so that helps a bunch."

Cape Air uses 9-seat Cessna 402 airplanes, smaller than those used by previous carriers. But Dustin Neeley, Melissa Marquis and Marie Marquis, who arrived early Friday afternoon after traveling from Rochester, Minn., said they didn't mind. They were returning to Bernie, Mo., in southern Stoddard County and said they liked free parking at the airport as well as saving money on parking and fuel for what would have been a three-hour drive to St. Louis or Memphis, Tenn., for a flight.

"It was really good," Melissa Marquis said. "It was nice. It was a little hot, but that's expected in a plane that small."

Over time, a successful passenger operation will have a big effect on the airport's balance sheet. Fuel sales for lead-free aviation gasoline, the fuel used by the Cessnas, was up 59 percent during the April through June period.

"Obviously the fuel flow has increased dramatically, and that has helped out immensely," Loy said.

Michelle Haynes, spokeswoman for Cape Air, said the company's employees are pleased with the way passengers have responded on all the routes it won in November. While low fares may draw passengers in initially, she said, service and convenience will make them repeat fliers.

Cape Air has code sharing with American Airlines in St. Louis, which allows passengers to earn frequent flier miles for flights from Cape Girardeau. Free parking, no hassles about changing flight times and no luggage fees also help win customers, she said.

"It has got to be as easy or easier than driving," Haynes said. "When a passenger can say 'Why drive?', you know you have won them a little bit."

As he was waiting for his security screening, Mike Johnston of Whitewater said he was trying Cape Air for the first time. His destination was Tulsa, Okla., and he decided to try Cape Air rather than use ground transportation costing $20 more to get to St. Louis.

"It is very convenient," Johnston said. "The price is right and the timing is good here, too."


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