Passengers aboard the first Contour Airlines flight out of Crescent City were jubilant Wednesday despite having to show up before daybreak.
A full plane applauded when Contour CEO Matt Chaifetz welcomed them aboard and cheered when Janina Bayuga gave a demonstration on how the seatbelts and oxygen masks worked.
“Pay attention everyone, I don’t want anyone screwing this up,” Caifetz joked just before the Embraer ERJ-135 jet left the runway at the Del Norte County Regional Airport and soared over Castle Rock.
After being without air service for about four months, local dignitaries, media personnel and passengers were happy to check in with Contour staff and go through the TSA screening process before hopping the jet for a 53-minute flight to Oakland International Airport. Complementary champagne, mimosas, bloody marys and breakfast also made for a pleasant journey.
For Jackie Cliffe, who regularly travels to Illinois and who purchased one of the first tickets available from Contour, being able to fly out of Crescent City again will save her a drive to Arcata or Medford.
“It’s just so much easier. I love our little airport,” she said. “It’s such a nice comfortable roomy plane. I’m really grateful we have it. We’ll use it a lot.”
Contour’s Crescent City to Oakland service marks the Nashville, Tennessee-based carrier’s first commercial route on the West Coast, Chaifetz said. Less than two months ago, the Boarder Coast Regional Airport Authority received approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation to use Alternate Essential Air Service (AEAS) federal dollars to allow Contour to serve Del Norte and Curry counties, Chaifetz noted.
According to the Department of Transportation, the department in February agreed to provide up to $3,310,503 per year in financial assistance to be used by Crescent City for public charter service to Oakland International Airport from April 1, 2018 through Sept. 30, 2020.
Since announcing its inaugural fares in March, ticket sales have been strong, Chaifetz said.
“We got this up and running in record time,” he said. “We’re ready to get going.”
Chaifetz said even though its Crescent City to Oakland service is Contour’s first route on the West Coast, it has experience serving other AEAS markets. He noted that out of the three bids the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority considered after Pen Air declared bankruptcy in August 2017 and stopped offering service out of Crescent City in December 2017, Contour offered the only jet capable of operating at the Del Norte County Regional Airport.
One of the three airlines the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority considered, Great Lakes, also went out of business recently, Chaifetz said.
“(We) offer Crescent City the best equipment,” he said. “A jet aircraft (with) the highest capacity and we’re able to do that at a subsidy level that was less than the other viable entities.”
The airport authority also considered a proposal from Boutique Air before ultimately selecting Contour in October 2017.
Wednesday’s inaugural flight didn’t just help passengers like Cliffe make their connecting flight in Oakland, it also served as an opportunity for many in the community to get to know the Contour staff, said Susan Daugherty, the airport’s interim director.
Daugherty noted many of the staff who sold passengers their tickets and checked them in Wednesday were Del Norte residents who worked for Pen Air as well as Skywest.
“It’s nice to have local people have their jobs back,” she said.
Even though he didn’t board the first Contour flight, Crescent City’s Interim City Manager Eric Wier showed up at the airport at 6 a.m. to see it off.
“The flight to Oakland is great, the transportation hub and easy connection to SFO,” Wier said, referring to San Francisco International Airport. “We’ve bought several tickets. We’re definitely going to utilize it as a family.”
Contour’s regular fares from Crescent City to Oakland are $69-$179 each way inclusive of taxes. The carrier will operate on the following schedule:
CEC to OAK: departing 7 a.m.; arriving 8:20 a.m. Monday through Friday.
CEC to OAK: Departing at 8 a.m.; arriving: 9:20 a.m. Saturday.
CEC to OAK: Departing 1 p.m.; arriving 2:20 p.m. Sunday.
OAK to CEC: Departing 5:45 p.m.; arriving 7:10 p.m. daily.
For more information, visit www.contourairlines.com. For customer inquiries or travel assistance, call 1-888-33-CONTOUR (1-888-332-6686).
Reach Jessica Cejnar at email@example.com