Southern Airways Express looking to provide services at Massena Airport
BY JEFF CHUDZINSKI
North Country This Week
MASSENA — The Essential Air Service Contract for Massena International Airport is open for bids and Southern Airways Express has made a serious pitch to provide services to the North Country.
During the Massena Town Board meeting held on Nov. 16 Mark Cestari, chief commercial officer at Southern Airways Express, presented the airline’s pitch to the town board. If selected, Southern Airways Express would provide 21 weekly round trip flights to Boston-Logan Airport.According to Cestari, all flights would be under $100.
Cestari also said the airline currently serves 54 cities, ranging from Nantucket to the Marianas Islands on the west coast.
“This year, we will be a $100 million company with 54 cities and 800 employees. We are now the largest commuter airline in the country, and we’re very proud of that. Even though we fly small planes, we have a big company attitude about professionalism and service,” Cestari said.
One benefit of Southern Airways, according to Cestari, is the footprint the airline has with hubs in places like Pittsburgh, Washington-Dulles, Boston-Logan and now Chicago-O’hare.
“We fly to more places than anywhere else. Folks flying in on the big airlines, we get them to the small airlines. We’re also a critical link for the small communities who need to go to the big cities for hospital service and for shopping and other things,” he said.
Cestari said the airline has worked hard to bridge partnerships with larger airlines, first breaking in with American Airline in 2018. Since then, Southern Airways has signed deals with Alaska Airlines in 2019, United Airlines in 2021 and Hawaiian Airlines just a week ago.
“The beauty of these airline partnerships is that they are bilateral, which means you can go to southernairways.com and you can buy that ticket that includes us and American, us and United, or you can buy it on united.com. If you have any issue of flight disruptions, our customer service team can change the ticket for you on both our airline and on the big airline, and you don’t have to wait five hours for a callback like you do with the big guys,” he said.
As for customer service, Cestari said Souther Airways has a 24-hour call center currently staff by 45 agents who speak English, Spanish and Chinese.
“We have very, very good customer service. Our phones are answered in an average of 30 seconds live voice, and customers really appreciate that,” he said.
Each of the airlines Southern Airways has an interline partnership with fly into Boston-Logan, allowing for easy link ups to larger hubs and international flights.
“They are seamlessly connected to these four terrific airlines. One ticket, one transaction. You go through TSA in Massena, you check your bags through. We’re the only airline bidding that has four interline partnerships and bilateral connections,” Cestari said.
For those coming to Massena, rental cars would also be a part of the package with Southern Airways offering 24-7 rental service at Massena International Airport.
Airfare was also mentioned, with Cestari saying the average cost in Massena would be $86.
“We do not have three-digit fares. Yours is not a rich community, and the fares are what drives traffic,” he said.
As for pilot availability, which has become a major concern for many airlines around the world, Cestari said there would not be a pilot shortage because Southern Airways would have eight pilots living in Massena.
“You’re never going to have a situation where you have an airplane, but no pilot to fly it. Our pilots live in our communities, they pay taxes in our communities, and they like to fly home to our communities at the end of the night,” he said.
Though Southern Airways presented to the town board, offering a contract that Cestari said would be nearly $1 million cheaper, three other options have been submitted for consideration.
Town Supervisor Sue Bellor said discussions have been ongoing with multiple airlines with meetings scheduled to continue talks.
Other proposals have also been outlined online for consideration, with Air Charter Express proposing 21 weekly round trip flights. Fourteen of those flights would be to Boston-Logan, with an additional seven to and from Albany. Average cost for flights would be $120.
Boutique Air has proposed two options, the first being 21 non-stop round trip flights with no specific destination. The second would continue the same service Boutique currently offers, with 14 weekly non-stop round trip flights to Boston-Logan and seven to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. The average cost of tickets would be $59.
Contour Airlines proposed 12 weekly round trip flights to and from Philadelphia International Airport, though an option exists to change six flights to and from Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.