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Discover the Ease of Travel at Hagerstown Regional Airport
by Raymond Franze and photos by Turner Photography Studio
Hagerstown Regional Airport has served the area’s residents as a gateway to the world for over 50 years. In 1962, Fairchild test pilot Richard A. Henson established one of the nation’s first commuter airlines providing regional service to Washington, D.C. via what is now Reagan National Airport. Henson Airlines lives on as the Salisbury-based Piedmont Airlines supplying the skies with regional jet service. Hagerstown has continued to offer commuter service to the area’s major metropolitan airports. In the early 2000s a few different regional airlines operated as US Airways Express, but lately, independent operators like Cape Air and Sun Air Express have dominated the short-haul routes.
According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Hagerstown Regional Airport averaged nearly 26,000 airline passengers during the three-year period ending in 2017. When the airport exceeds 10,000 enplanements in a year, the FAA defines the airport as a primary airport. This distinction is significant because it opens up greater funding opportunities. Through the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program, the airport recently acquired new snow removal and deicing equipment in addition to funds to expand the terminal and rehabilitate runways and taxiways — improvements that should continue to strengthen and grow airline service available at the airport.
Multiple Airline Options
Continuing the tradition of commuter airline service to the region’s major airports, Southern Airways Express took over in 2016 after it acquired Sun Air Express. While they still offer flights to Pittsburgh, Baltimore/Washington International (BWI) now receives the flights that once went to Dulles. Baltimore and Pittsburgh may be the final destination for some passengers, but those airports also serve as a gateway to most of North America, the Caribbean and parts of Europe through connecting flights.
The airline offers three daily weekday round-trip flights and one daily round-trip service on the weekends to BWI, where Southern Airways Express customers have the ability to fly non-stop to 79 domestic and 13 international destinations spread across 300 daily scheduled flights. Service to BWI is ideal for those who enjoy flying Southwest Airlines since BWI is one of that airline’s major hubs where in calendar year 2016 they coveted almost 70% of the airport’s market share.
Service is a bit more limited going to Pitts-burgh as the airline only offers round-trip service once per day; but airline service as a whole is limited at PIT compared to BWI. Passengers connecting at Pittsburgh International have access to 55 destinations with an average of 170 daily departures.
Fares for this regional service can be as low as $29 per flight, while averaging closer to $50 per ticket. To minimize the cost for passengers, the airline utilizes the economically-efficient, single-engine Cessna Caravan capable of carrying up to nine passengers on a given flight. Also helping is the Essential Air Service, a government program aimed to offer subsidies to airlines that provide service to rural communities.
In 2008, the airport landed Allegiant Airlines to provide direct-service flights to Orlando, Fla., a quick and very convenient option for families looking to visit Mickey and his pals at Walt Disney World. To keep costs low, the Las Vegas-based airline avoids hefty gate fees by flying into satellite airports on both ends. Orlando-destined flights arrive at Orlando-Sanford International as opposed to the more popular Orlando Inter-national; and Hagerstown was a perfect, economical alternative to the “DC-3.” Allegiant also offers low fares through its philosophy of not charging a passenger for services they don’t need. Ancillary fees can be charged for selecting seats in advance, checking luggage, carry-on bags, printing boarding passes and amenities aboard the flight. Flexible passengers who travel light can get to Florida for minimal cost.
While the airline had a several year break, Allegiant Air came roaring back in 2012 with its McDonnell Douglas MD-80s once again providing non-stop service to Orlando, Fla. In addition to the MD-80, Allegiant uses the Airbus A319 and A320 which are capable of carrying up to 177 passengers at a time. The airline continues to provide flights twice a week. During certain times of the year Allegiant adds additional flights through-out the week to meet demand. In February 2015, the airline began service from Hagerstown to the Gulf Coast of Florida with seasonal flights to the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE) just west of Tampa.
THE PASSENGER EXPERIENCE
The airport has numerous advantages to make flying out of Hagerstown worth the while. Perhaps the first for area residents is proximity. The departure airport is right in our backyard. No longer must one travel over an hour to reach BWI, Dulles, or Reagan National Airports for a flight — a quick 20-minute drive and you’re there. Go ahead and hit the “snooze” button once more on that alarm clock, the short commute means you have more time.
As one makes the turn onto the drive leading to the passenger terminal, they find a long-term parking lot that is both free and close to the building. Forget having to pay anywhere from $8 to $17 per day to park—use that money to splurge a little more on vacation. And don’t worry about having to wait for the buses to shuttle you from the long-term parking lot to the terminal building — there’s a good chance your car is less than 200 yards away from the ticket counter.
Once inside the terminal building, passengers will see the usual services available at most airports with airline service — airline ticket counters, security checkpoint, baggage claim, and a rental car counter that serves Avis and Budget. Local coffee shop Pura Vida opened a location inside the terminal a couple of months ago. They offer coffee and light breakfast items to help energize passengers. For now their hours coincide with Allegiant’s Monday and Friday morning flights, and passengers must take advantage of it before going through security.
The experience inside varies slightly, whether one is flying Allegiant Air to Florida or taking a short hop with Southern. Generally the first stop is to the ticket counter to check in, print boarding passes, weigh and check luggage destined for the cargo hold. Then comes everyone’s favorite part — the dreaded security checkpoint. For those flying with Southern, you’re going through these processes with no more than eight other people — as long as timing of your flight doesn’t coincide with an Allegiant flight. Those who fly to Florida will process with around 150 of their not-so-closest friends.
When I flew to Baltimore on Southern Airways Express, I walked away from the ticket counter with my ticket in my hand six minutes after I parked my car. The longest delay was waiting for the federal government employees (TSA) to prepare themselves and the equipment for the screening process. Despite being the last of my flight’s passengers to process, and the TSA getting some extra practice re-scanning my items, I was grabbing my bags 10 minutes after the first person began — and less than 15 minutes later we were airborne.
Naturally the process takes longer for those flying Allegiant Air due to the load capacity of the flights — and Florida is probably a more exciting destination than Baltimore or Pittsburgh. Nevertheless, aside from a small Southern Airways Express flight that may slip in, the airport is only processing one flight through the ticket counters and security, as opposed to BWI, Dulles, and Reagan where travelers for several dozen flights are processing at the same time. For a recent Allegiant flight, passengers went from the back of the line for the ticket counter to walking toward security in a little over 10 minutes. Unfortunately, the wait to get through security was about three times as long, taking a little over 30 minutes. Hopefully a fringe benefit, however, was peace of mind.
The award winner for in-flight experience goes to Southern Airways Express. Allegiant’s setup is typical for an airline flight — lots of passengers, small windows, questioning whether or not the window or aisle seat is better, and flying along at 30,000 feet for a couple of hours. Southern Airways Express doesn’t offer in-flight amenities, but that’s a wash since you have to pay extra for them on Allegiant. What Southern Airways Express does offer is seats that are both window-AND-aisle, large windows to look out from, and cruising altitudes between 4,000 and 8,000 feet that equates to a 30-to-45-minute sightseeing excursion where landmarks are easily spotted.
For those with a layover in Baltimore or Pittsburgh, plenty of options exist for connecting airlines and final destinations. While Southern Airways Express has an agreement with American Airlines to transfer checked luggage, one downside is that for any other airline, passengers will need to retrieve checked luggage from baggage claim and then check it upstairs with the next airline, meaning one more trip through security. Plenty of ground transportation options await those at the end of their journey.
Upon arrival back home in Hagerstown, six minutes after the first bag came out on the conveyer belt all checked baggage was claimed and passengers were getting picked up curbside or taking 90 seconds to reach their car in the parking lot. Those who land with an appetite can cross the street to Love’s Travel Plaza where they’ll find a Subway and Wendy’s. Around the other side of the airport is The Grille at Runways for those seeking a sit-down dining experience with a view of the airfield and departing airline traffic.
When all is said and done, the biggest head-ache when using Hagerstown Regional Airport for airline travel may be digging around while trying to figure out where you stashed the car keys a week ago.