By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Brrrrr …. Baby, it’s cold outside …. and perhaps it sounds like a good time to escape to the South – or at least think of planning a summer vacation in advance! You’re in luck either way and you can count on North Central West Virginia Airport (NCWVA) to get you there.
It was officially announced in late November that Allegiant Airlines would reinstate the direct flights with special pricing to Myrtle Beach from NCWVA again this year. And immediately after it was made public, reservations started coming in.
NCWVA Director Rick Rock explained, “Last year was the introductory season for these flights to Myrtle from our airport, and because we had such great community response, they are bringing it back to us again in 2016. It is very rewarding that Allegiant was so pleased with the performance here! This program operated as a mature market during its very first year, and in comparison with our peers, that is great news for our airport.”
These Allegiant flights to Myrtle Beach run twice a week – on Mondays and Fridays – with flights from June 3rd through August 15th. Rock said the average flight last year cost around $39.
The Allegiant flights to Orlando/Sanford International Airport are ongoing throughout the winter. The fall season began on October 1st and runs through August 15th as well.
“This is a great way to escape the cold winter weather,” Rock stated. “As we look out our windows and see the snow flying now, we are getting a great response. The flights are doing very well, but typically it is a slower period after Christmas. It will pick up even more after President’s Day.”
Rock expounded on reasons why flying CKB has seen growth and success. The low rates are, of course, a plus! There is free, convenient parking. And amenities have been upgraded as far as security areas go, he said.
“Our TSA people are very professional because the security and safety of our passengers is always a number one concern. But we move people through as expediently as possible,” he said. “We are travelers ourselves so we try to implement all those things we really appreciate as travelers. For example, as people arrive, baggage is unloaded and out within ten minutes. When passengers have disembarked, their bags are waiting for them because we understand that they want to get home as soon as possible. And the same thing applies during departure. We understand that they’re anxious to get to their destination, so we try to move things along as quickly as possible and get them off and in the air with little wait time.”
In addition to the Allegiant flights, daily service is also provided by Silver Airways under the brand of United Express with access to a worldwide market through the Dulles hub. These 18 weekly flights allow travelers to basically go anywhere!
Rock says there have been some minor problems with Silver Airways. “However,” he stressed, “it all starts with identifying problems and then taking steps to achieve the goal of better reliability, and Silver has made some vast improvements. We appreciate their efforts to better serve our customers.”
NCWVA continues to strengthen its relationship with its airport partners and will attempt to add additional services and destinations in the future.
“2016 is an EAS (Essential Air Service) year, so we look to bring competition to that process,” Rock continued. “We want to be an advocate for our community and offer the best possible air service. It is a driver of the economy giving us the opportunity to introduce people to our community.”
Rock says he continually gets positive feedback – at the grocery store, at church and even at the baseball field! “Thousands of people have used our services and they utilize them multiple times. Over and over again, I hear that our reasonable flights are a great thing that has happened. Even though the people who live here love West Virginia, they enjoy being able to get to a warm climate quickly and affordably in a jet aircraft!”
Thanks to such reasonable flight rates, the FLYCKB team has witnessed many family reunions in the terminal. They have also seen children be surprised with a getaway to Disney World. Rock says these scenes put into perspective what this small local airport does for the area.
“It is not all about economics,” he said emphatically. “There is a much more human aspect. “Many West Virginians have exported to Florida and South Carolina so we identified those markets as a top priority. People come home to the Mountain State more often because it is easier, more convenient and very affordable. They can get first class service and amenities for a reasonable price here. And our flights give easier access to leisure destinations. Plus, we fill needs for business travelers as well. It is the best of all worlds.”
Rock says the strides made have been “good connections”. They want to do more than maintain what they have accomplished; they want to build on it and create other opportunities to connect north central West Virginia to other parts of the world.
He concluded, “Looking back, I never would have believed that there would be people from Huntington, Morgantown, Martinsburg, Charleston – and even folks from neighboring states – coming to CKB to fly! But they are … and it’s been a great ride! That’s why our team says ‘Fly like a VIP – Fly CKB’. The improvements we’ve made and the opportunities we’ve made available to passengers have been a key to our success. It has exceeded our expectations! The culture of this airport is to attempt to earn passengers’ business every day, and we will strive to keep that going.”