Cape Air is listening to its customers and stretching itself to do what they ask, and one can't ask a company for more than that.
The airline, based on Cape Cod in Hyannis, Mass., flies three round-trips a day between the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear and Boston's Logan International Airport, where passengers can connect to all kinds of places. The federal government subsidizes those since it considers passenger service to our airport "essential." Peak-season traffic has gotten so heavy that in recent summers, Cape Air has added a fourth daily Boston flight to its schedule, without subsidy.
What's new is that, in response to advocacy from people and institutions up here, Cape Air is going to switch that fourth daily summer round-trip from Boston to White Plains, with van service from there to Midtown Manhattan (about an hour and 15 minutes away).
The airline previously tried to get the feds to subsidize this service. Adirondack Health, North Country Community College, Paul Smith's College, St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment and Recovery Centers, Trudeau Institute and The Wild Center - all among the region's biggest and most prominent employers - sent letters this fall asking for that, but the U.S. Department of Transportation said no.
Now Cape Air is stepping up and doing it on its own. Good.
Connecting the Adirondacks by airline to the New York City area is important for business trips, tourism, family visits, locals travel and other things that are valuable to the local economy and people's lives.
There are a few potential downsides. Harrietstown officials (the town owns and runs the airport) have publicly worried about reducing the popular Boston service. There's also a possibility that the higher prices to and from White Plains (roughly twice that to Boston - it's unsubsidized) will be prohibitive, and some fear cutting into the business of an expensive charter service that serves our airport. When that charter pays the town for landing fees, fuel, sewage disposal, deicing, etc., it helps cover airport costs that townspeople would otherwise pay through taxes.
But we don't know if these will actually be major problems, and even if they are, it seems likely that the upsides of connecting to New York City outweigh them. The White Plains service is definitely worth trying. Cape Air has only committed to it for this summer. If it doesn't work, it won't last.
Meanwhile, Cape Air is almost ready to move some newly hired employees into a storefront ticket office and call center in downtown Saranac Lake. One or two agents are expected to work there at a time, welcoming walk-ins and answering the phone to help anyone from the 518 area code who calls who calls the airline's main customer service number, 1-800-CAPE-AIR.
Call-in customers will not only get a real human being on the phone, but one in the Adirondacks rather than Cape Air's Hyannis headquarters. That agent can tell them about the weather, upcoming events or things to do, the way someone at a visitor center would. That will make potential visitors more comfortable and give them an accurate impression of the Adirondacks as friendly, busy and community-oriented as well as a place of great natural beauty and terrain.
The agency also will be good for downtown Saranac Lake's image - it needs those vacant storefronts filled - and for connecting with other local businesses and institutions for mutual benefit.
After a couple of lackluster airlines at the local airport, Cape Air is a success story. Since it took over in early 2008, annual ridership has increased from 8,119 that year to 11,810 in 2012. That's good for everyone. The nine-seat planes make its trips a little funky - kind of like flying in a skinny van - but the views are amazing and the customer service is consistently good, according to everything we've heard and experienced.
The White Plains service is likely to make things even better.