Friday, May 20, 2016

City officials confident in new airline

Airport Advisory Board member Dick Trail, right, visits with Boutique Air Customer Service Specialist Adrian Casillas during a meeting at the Heritage Senior Center Thursday afternoon. 

McCOOK, Neb. -- In less than two weeks Southwest Nebraska residents will fly from McCook to Denver for as low as $49 one-way and local airport officials are beginning to get excited. Commercial air service provider Boutique Air is set to take the reins at McCook Ben Nelson Regional Airport on June 1.

Tickets for June flights are already available online, at, with Economy seats priced at $49 and Economy Refundable at $99. Economy seats are non-refundable, however, a representative from the airline attending Thursday's Airport Advisory Board meeting said a 90-day credit is offered for passengers that need to cancel Economy tickets.

"It will be nice to have 90-days to take advantage of the ticket," said McCook Public Works Director Kyle Potthoff. The airline doesn't charge a fee to transfer the tickets unless the ticket is upgraded to a refundable fare, according to Boutique Air Customer Service Specialist Adrian Casillas.

While pricing is typically among the top priorities for those contemplating a flight, stabilizing McCook's commercial air service after several years with a high rate of cancellations was paramount Thursday. Potthoff and advisory board members in attendance indicated throughout the meeting they were confident local air service was in the right hands come June 1.

Casillas said reliability of service was a priority for Boutique Air and, while flight cancellations for safety reasons would certainly occur, the airline makes it a point to avoid cancellations stemming from staffing and operational issues. City employee and airport maintenance manager Ken Vontz cited Boutique's cancellation rate at the Alliance and Chadron airports in support of Casillas' comments. Boutique Air posted a 100 percent flight completion rate at both airports during the first 8-months of service.

Boutique Air doesn't charge fees for gate-checked baggage, however, passengers with checked baggage will have to pickup their baggage in Denver and pass through TSA security screening again if they transfer to another airline. Casillas said Boutique is working on official agreements with other airlines to allow for the transfer of checked baggage but the service isn't currently available.

McCook passengers with carry-on baggage only or flying Boutique to their final destination will not have to pass through TSA screening again in Denver.

"If it exceeds the 24 inch measurements for carry-on baggage it would have to be collected at baggage claim," Casillas said.

Passengers will be able to purchase tickets at the McCook airport from Boutique Air staff, a service not available today with Great Lakes Airlines. Casillas also said he had been asked about wheelchair service recently and wanted customers to know those services were available.

Casillas asked board members for input on a second flight destination out of McCook, should enplanements warrant it, which board members quickly voiced support for. A flight to Omaha was said to be the best fit.

"We've had discussions in years past about how nice it would be to go both ways," said Potthoff, adding it was great to have an inquiry coming from the airline itself.

Casillas indicated Boutique Air implemented a second destination in similar small market airports and found it typically benefitted operations and passenger counts overall. He said a flight to Omaha could bring additional passengers from Omaha traveling to Denver by way of McCook.

Boutique is scheduled for two daily flights to Denver, Monday through Friday, and one daily flight on Saturday and Sundays. Tickets are only available for 90 days into the future and Casillas indicated that was intended to offer the airline and airport flexibility to change the flight schedule should the first few months of operations reveal a better plan.

Monday through Friday, flights will depart McCook at 5:30 a.m. (CDT) and arrive in Denver at 5:50 a.m. (MDT). The plane will then depart Denver at 6:35 a.m. (MDT) and arrive back in McCook at 8:40 a.m. (CDT).

A second flight will depart McCook at 9:10 a.m. (CDT) and arrive in Denver at 9:30 a.m. (MDT). The plane will remain in Denver until it departs for McCook a second time later that evening at 8:30 p.m. (MDT) and arrives in McCook at 10:35 (CDT).

Saturdays and Sundays one flight will depart McCook at 5:30 a.m. (CDT) and one flight will depart Denver at 8:30 p.m. (MDT).

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