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Jon K. Rust

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and co-president of Rust Communications.

Opinion

Jet service from Cape off to good start

During the past four years, I flew Cape Air to St. Louis twice. In the first four weeks of jet service from Cape to Chicago, I will match that number ó with additional trips already being planned. My first flight on United Express (operated by SkyWest) was last week and the trip was all one could hope for: fast, smooth and without any trouble. The ticket counter staff was still learning, but by now, I expect most of that learning curve should be over. And, their working through the process didnít delay any of the passengers. The flight staff was professional, including the flight attendant.

While Cape Air previously did an admirable job re-establishing reliable, on-time service after years of its predecessorís inconsistency, flying to St. Louis for me wasnít much of an advantage over driving or taking the BART shuttle van. The price was good, but there were simply too few direct connections from St. Louis. Flying through Chicago, however, is a whole other story.

My first flight was for a meeting in downtown Chicago, and it was easy boarding the jet in Cape, landing at OíHare and taking a train to my downtown hotel. From home to hotel, it took me three hours. On the return flight the next day, I flew through Quincy, departing OíHare at 8:10 p.m. We arrived in Cape more than 30 minutes earlier than scheduled. (Thatís because there was no reason to wait the full layover in Quincy. It was a pleasant surprise.)

Information released from the city of Cape Girardeau indicates the new jet service is estimated to bring $426,000 in revenue to the city over two years, which, according to a story in the Southeast Missourian by Mark Bliss, is about $235,000 more than what Cape Airís contract generated for the same length. Most of that difference will be in jet fuel sales.

But how many passengers were on my flights, everyone asks?

Not many (five one way, seven the other), but I donít think thatís concerning ó yet. Folks are just getting to know about the new service. And if I do the math correctly, the big hurdle for Cape (to justify some of the refurbishments it had to do to the terminal, as well as increased fire department obligations) is to get to 10,000 boardings a year. At that number, the city receives an additional $1 million in federal subsidies.

Under federal rules, all that counts are boardings in Cape (and not the flights from Chicago), so with 12 flights out each week, to get to 10,000 in a year the airline needs to average roughly 16 passengers per flight. During the first few weeks of service, the average occupancy, according to airport manager Bruce Loy, has been 10 passengers with the Friday noon flight (direct to Chicago) as the big one. The first Friday saw 24 passengers. Last weekís: 28.

Whether this level of usage justifies the federal subsidies is a different question ó which is legitimate to be debated at the federal level. But these are the current rules in place all across the country. There is no question the convenience of rural air travel is a significant benefit to business in this area, including for economic engines such as Procter & Gamble and other big employers. And for tourism, it opens up new conveniences for area residents.

For those still learning about the new flights to and from Chicago, here is a bit of key information: The jet seats 50, and there is a bathroom on board. The flight attendant serves snacks and drinks. And the airline has a code share with the big three carriers ó United, American and Delta ó so your bags can be checked through to almost anywhere from the Cape airport. One drawback, at least to be aware of, is the overhead carry space is smaller than the big jets (but not unlike most jets now out of St. Louis) so you will either need to check your carry-on at the gate or at baggage check. (There is a fee for checking at baggage check, so pack small if you can.) Finally, the airport has a pretty neat ramp so you donít need to climb stairs.

My next flight will be the first week of January. If anything changes, Iíll let you know. But for United Express, so far, so good. Great to have you in Cape Girardeau.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian and member of the Southeast Missourian editorial board: jrust@semissourian.com.

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