Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Fliers share pros, cons about Stewart International Airport (KSWF), Newburgh, New York

By Tracy Baxter

I discovered a surefire way to get an inbox full of e-mails: Write something about the perceived shortcomings of our local airport. Then stand back and watch the comments pop in.

Turns out, a lot of you have all manner of opinions regarding the state of Stewart International Airport passenger service.

The response came after I did a little venting over my unsuccessful search for a time-appropriate, cost-effective way to use Stewart as a starting point for a West Coast trip.

Here's a quick sampling of the messages from those with Stewart travel experiences:

Marsha flies out of Newark because she can save hundreds of dollars while getting from here to there — without stopovers.

Doug thinks Stewart's parking fees are seriously out of whack for a suburban facility.

Gene says despite the longer drive, he's found Albany's airport a more attractive option.

Even some of the pros felt the need to weigh in. Travel agent Linda says she's fighting a losing battle when it comes to putting more derrieres in the seats of Stewart flights, given existing routes and fare structures.

Most of the correspondence ended this way — we use Stewart when it comes close to the New York metro airports in terms of price and desired flight times.

The airport does have its staunch defenders.

Harvey told me that if you're headed to the Sunshine State, Stewart consistently beats the metro New York airports when parking and the ever-rising cost of gas are factored in. And Harvey's e-mail also contained this nugget — the folks at Stewart are friendlier.

Negative comments play like a broken record in the ears of Stewart General Manager Richard Heslin, who can recite, chapter and verse, all the fare and destination complaints.

But he's quick to point out Stewart's 2011 passenger numbers — the highest since 2008. Then there's the long-term capital commitment the Port Authority has made to the airport.

And Heslin says PA personnel never miss an opportunity to talk up Stewart's pluses to passenger providers.

There's no questioning the potential. A Goshen travel consultant put it this way — only a few people love you enough to take you to JFK or Newark, but you'll always be able to get a lift to Newburgh.

The latest marketing push includes an incentive program for any airline that adds Stewart flights. They'll get discounts on airport rents and user fees, help with advertising and reductions on ground handling charges. Existing Stewart carriers JetBlue, Delta and U.S. Airways Express can also take advantage if they begin offering flights to places other than Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, Detroit and Philadelphia.

My email inbox provided me a chance to hear from frustrated travelers eager to see Stewart grow.

The comments brought to mind newspaper editor Horace Greeley and the phrase he used to promote America's expansion — go West, young man. Now, if only the Port Authority can convince a few airlines to do the same.


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