A short drive from my home is the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) which is the smallest airport in Virginia that provides commercial service. SHD is served by one airline (Via Air) which has a federal contract to provide Essential Air Service to the community. In the continental US there are 115 smaller communities which have an EAS Airport
Via Air has been serving the SHD airport since last November and offers daily flights to/from Charlotte, NC and on two days a week they offer continued service from Charlotte to Sanford/Orlando Airport . Previously another small airline, Silver Airways, which had the EAS contract provided daily flights to Dulles Airport but lost the contract renewal after many customer complaints of delayed and canceled flights.
While the SHD airport is convenient to my home I usually travel to larger airports in the area which are are served by the major airlines so that I don’t have to switch airlines to get to my final destination. Last weekend I had the need to travel to Charlotte, NC for a special event and Via Air was offering round trip flights from SHD to CLT for $70 round trip so I decided to give the new EAS provider a try.
Some of the perks of using an EAS airport is that many of them provide free parking and of course no lines or very short lines. As a frequent traveler I did find some disadvantages of flying with Via Airlines at SHD. I’m used to using the TripIt application to check and alert me of changes to flight status. Because Via Air is mostly a charter airline the TripIt application is unable to check flight status for the airline and Via Air does not offer TSA Precheck which was a real disadvantage for the return flight home at the busy Charlotte airport which also does not offer Clear.
When I checked in at SHD for my departing flight I found two Via Air employees at the counter who informed me that my flight would be departing about 90 minutes later than originally scheduled. Since Charlotte was my final destination I was ok with the delay. Since I had some extra time I decided to try to get some lunch and found the one food counter at the airport was closed. I walked down the hall and asked the one lady running two rental car counters if she knew if the food counter would be open for lunch and she replied “ Oh no...the girl who runs that just had a baby and it will be closed for a while”. Fortunately I had enough time to leave the airport and drive down the road to grab some food and come back.
After I returned back to the airport from getting some lunch I found some other passengers waiting for our flight. One couple who was waiting had plans to switch airlines in Charlotte to get to their final destination and because of the 90 minute delay was discussing their re-booking options on the phone. When it was time to board the flight the same two Via Air employees at the check in counter also worked the gate and performed the duties of the ground crew with loading the plane with luggage.
For the flight down to Charlotte I was one of 10 passengers and told to disregard the seat assignment on my ticket and to sit anywhere past Row 8 to help balance the weight on the plane. On the Return flight home which was a Sunday there was a total of 30 passengers. Some of those passengers had boarded the plane in Sanford. The return flight home was also delayed but this time only by 60 minutes. Upon arriving back at SHD the same two airline employees who were there when I departed was working as ground crew and baggage handlers.
If I have a need to return to Charlotte again in the future I would use SHD and Via Air again. But if Charlotte is not my final destination I’m going to continue to use the larger airports where I don’t have to worry about changing airlines and unreliable flight schedules.