Flights slashed: CHO to LaGuardia about to get skimpier

If you live in Charlottesville but want to wake up in the city that doesn't sleep, you'll have a harder time doing it pretty soon. That's because this summer, the Charlottesville Albemarle Regional Airport is losing two of its three daily nonstop Charlottesville to LaGuardia flights.

"It's reduced to a single 50-seat jet," explains airport spokesperson Jason Burch, who says US Airways will cease its trio of round-trip flights on July 10 and Delta will begin a single flight on July 12, leaving one day– July 11– when flying to New York from Charlottesville won't be possible at all. The new Delta schedule has a plane leaving around 7am, Burch says, and returning to Charlottesville at 10:45pm.

The reduction in flights doesn't please Victor Schiller. A private investor who takes several flights to New York each year for meetings, he says he appreciates the multiple flight option. For instance, Charlottesville business travelers have been able to choose the 6am flight to arrive in the Big Apple in time for a 9am meeting, go at noon, or work nearly a full day in Charlottesville before catching the 4:45pm flight.

"It's always been okay to do business from Charlottesville if you were working in other cities," says Schiller, citing the recent addition of two nonstop flights between Charlottesville and Chicago as similarly helpful to business travelers.

"This," he says of the New York flight reduction, "is going to hurt us a little bit."

The local airport had no say in the the switch, says spokesperson Burch, who says the change resulted from Delta and USAirways trading dozens of take-off and landing privileges at Reagan National in D.C. and New York's LaGuardia. Burch says he feels disappointed that Delta didn't keep multiple CHO-to-LGA flights on the schedule, but relieved they at least kept one.

"It's not my favorite decision," says Burch, calling it a "subtle victory" because the Delta-USAirways deal cost some similar-sized communities all their direct flights to New York.

While the Delta jet is a comfort and speed upgrade from the 37-seat turboprop planes that have puttered businessfolk and Broadway fans north in under two hours (and Delta is retiring its entire fleet of Saab turboprops), Burch acknowledges it means a more than a 50 percent decrease in available seats– from 111 to 50.

That's not the only bad news. Schiller says that the cost of a ticket appears to have risen. He says he was accustomed to paying around $300 round-trip, but when he checked prices for later in the summer, he was quoted about double that.

The Airport's Burch says he's keeping a close eye on fares.

"It's always been one of our higher fares," says Burch. "Delta coming in with a jet, they're going to have to pay to keep that jet in service. It's hard." 

For his next New York journey in August, Schiller says the change has him considering taking the train since Amtrak offers at least two daily trains from Charlottesville to New York's Penn Station at a round-trip cost of $199 if booked in advance. (The price jumps to $302 for last-minute ticket purchases.)

Another option for traveling to New York is the Starlight Express, the luxury bus service that delivers riders round-trip for $179. The service, launched in 2004 and purchased by A Goff Limousine two years ago, is about to see significant price and schedule improvements, promises general manager Dan Goff.

Burch, however, says New York-bound airline patrons like Schiller may not have to fret for long since the single flight to New York may not be the only one forever.

"We're anxious," he says, "to try to increase the frequency for the business traveler."

1 comment

This is terrible for C'ville business. Not sure why our local government does not do more to lobby airlines to fly here. So many people drive to DC and Richmond to fly that would rather fly out of CHO if they could. And the lack of flights deters money and business from wanting to come to C'ville.