MARTINSBURG — The Altoona-Blair County Airport will continue to have rental vehicles available after Contour Airlines takes over daily passenger flight service starting Oct. 4.
The Aero Corp., which offers an Avis/Budget franchise, will bring in rental vehicles to the airport under the terms of a contract the airport authority is signing with Aero.
Under that agreement, vehicles can be reserved through online sites and at the airport.
“We will serve as the operator and the concessionaire,” airport manager Tracy Plessinger told the authority during Tuesday’s monthly meeting where the agreement with Aero was approved.
While rental vehicles have been available at the airport continuously since January 2021, those vehicles were made available by Boutique Air, the airline company currently providing daily passenger flights.
On Oct. 3, Boutique will complete its last flights at Altoona-Blair County Airport, and Contour Airlines will take over on Oct. 4. Contour Airlines’ schedule calls for daily flights to and from the Philadelphia International Airport on a 30-seat Embraer ERJ-145 jet.
Boutique provided daily flights to and from the Pittsburgh and Baltimore-Washington International airports via an eight-seat Pilatus PC-12.
When the airport authority decided in late June to pursue Contour Airlines to take over passenger flights, it acknowledged the pending loss of Boutique’s rental vehicle service.
One reason the airport welcomed Boutique Air in January 2021 was because Boutique offered vehicle rentals, which were popular for some travelers landing at the rural airport outside Martinsburg. The rental vehicles could also be booked through Boutique’s website.
Before Boutique, the airport sometimes had rental vehicles available, depending on when a franchise operated there.
The Avis/Budget operation to be set up at the airport will be that franchise’s only location in Blair County, based on the company’s website showing various locations outside the county.
Avis/Budget has a presence in many airports, including the University Park/State College and Lancaster airports, Plessinger said.
In support of the new operation, the Altoona-Blair County Airport Authority voted to designate Nick Bechtel as rental car supervisor and to change Bechtel’s part-time maintenance status to full time so he can take on the additional responsibilities.
The authority also authorized the hiring of part-time staff to assist with staffing the rental desk on an as-needed basis.
Contour Airlines pending arrival
Contour Airlines personnel are already working on efforts to set up and introduce their flights at the airport, Plessinger said.
The company’s website, www.contourairlines.com, includes the Altoona-Blair County Airport (AOO) in its search boxes for flights to and from Philadelphia.
Contour flights can also be booked through American Airlines’s website because of ticketing and baggage agreements between the companies. They’re also showing up on online ticketing websites.
“We have had people coming in asking for schedules,” Plessinger told the airport authority.
Effective Oct. 4, Contour’s schedule shows flights leaving Altoona at 11:55 a.m. and 4:55 p.m. on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On those same days, flights to Altoona will leave Philadelphia at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.
On Saturdays and Tuesdays, Contour’s schedule shows a 1:45 p.m. flight from Philadelphia to Altoona. The flight from Altoona to Philadelphia leaves at 4:45 p.m. on Saturdays and Tuesdays.
At Philadelphia, passengers will be at an airport with access to 25 airlines with an average of 500 daily departing flights, based on the airport’s online information.
When checking Contour Airline’s website, most flights between Altoona and Philadelphia show a one-way ticket price of $49. On the day of the price check, Contour’s site showed one discounted ticket available at $43, also for a one-way flight.
For those flying beyond Altoona and Philadelphia, comparison shopping efforts might be beneficial, especially for flights involving other airports within reasonable driving distances.
For instance, a late October flight from the Altoona airport to New York’s John F. Kennedy airport — via Philadelphia — recently displayed a round-trip ticket price of $485 on the American Airlines website. On the same day, the round-trip cost of flying from the University Park/State College airport to JFK was listed at $597. But a cheaper ticket was available at $198 for a round-trip flight between the Pittsburgh and JFK airports.
For flyers heading west, the American Airlines’s website displayed a round-trip ticket price from Altoona to Denver — via Philadelphia — of $549. It was just slightly higher than the $522 ticket price for a round-trip flight from University Park/State College airport, which also went to Philadelphia before flying to Denver. The lowest ticket price came in at $368 for a round-trip flight between Pittsburgh and Denver.
The Altoona-Blair County Airport change from Boutique to Contour introduces the use of a 30-seat jet aircraft at the airport and the authority’s hope of enticing more passengers.
Boutique, earlier this year, asked for $4.28 million for one year to keep providing passenger service at the airport. But based on that subsidy request and the company’s current flight schedule, it would have to fill nearly all seats on all flights to meet the $200 per passenger cap on subsidy for airports to remain in the government’s Essential Air Service program.
So instead of endorsing Boutique, the airport authority secured permission to enter the Alternate Essential Air Service. In that program, the airport was granted $4.28 million to pay to Contour Airlines for daily passenger flights via the larger aircraft, with an expectation that Contour will help build passenger numbers. The current subsidy cap to stay in the Alternate Essential Air Service program is also $200 per passenger. To reach that level, the airport will need to see passenger levels soar to 21,400 annually. In 2021, the airport counted about 9,000 passengers, its best year since 2009.
Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 814-946-7456.