CINCINNATI - Would you be willing to pay a little extra to bypass the airportsecurity checkpoint?
Hundreds of passengers are doing just that at Lunken Airport.The city-owned airstrip hasn't seen commercial service for decades,but new scheduled jet service to major cities acts more like aprivate charter.
Ultimate Air Shuttle is actually called a "public charter" --anyone can buy a seat on what amounts to a private jet. The Dornier328 has 30 seats, just below the FAA threshold that would require afull security checkpoint.
"You can step right on without any delay," said passenger DeannaCastellini. "No pat down, no security, no lines."
Tony Bonomini says you can, "leave your home, get to theairport, walk right on the plane. What more could you ask for?"
Bonomini is a Northern Kentucky businessman, but he crosses theriver into Cincinnati because he says the Lunken flights are muchmore convenient than flying out of the international airport inHebron.
"You can get to New York early in the morning to carry onbusiness, and still get back in time to be with your family in thegreater Cincinnati area by 7:30 in the evening," he says.
Ultimate Air Shuttle also flies to Chicago every weekday exceptWednesday. Because of the time change, the 7:30 a.m. flight landsat Midway Airport before it even takes off from Lunken -- at 7:25a.m. Central Time.
No Lines - No Delays
It's not just about avoiding the security lines. Passengersdon't have to deal with any of the other headaches of modern airtravel.
The free, secure parking lot is just 30 yards from the plane.Check-in amounts to showing your I.D. to the flight attendant andhanding her your bags.
There's no metal detector or x-ray machine.
The passenger manifest is cross-checked with the TSA against theterrorist "no fly" list before the passengers arrive.
"You could arrive 15 minutes before departure, get on theaircraft, and you're on your way," says Rick Pawlak, Ultimate JetCharter/Ultimate Air Shuttle marketing director.
The company gave us an open seat on its New York flight to seehow it works. I left my house at 6 a.m. for the 6:30 a.m. flight. Ilive 15 minutes from Lunken, but I was still on board with 10minutes to spare.
The plane was "wheels up" at 6:35 a.m. Normally the flight takesabout 90 minutes to Morristown, New Jersey, arriving around 8:00a.m.
The day we flew, we made it to Times Square before 9:30 a.m.
Morristown is 45 minutes to an hour from Manhattan by van, aboutthe same travel time in a cab from JFK during rush hour. But thetiny airport is outside the busy JFK/Laguardia/Newark air corridor,leading to few delays.
Pawlak says, "even on a Friday, when a lot of business travelersare sitting on the tarmac for up to two, three hours, we areleaving at 5:15 p.m. on time."
That puts business travelers back in Cincinnati a little after7:00 p.m. I was in my house by 7:30 p.m. the Friday night weflew.
The company contracts its own van shuttle service fromManhattan, so the plane won't take off if those vans are stuck intraffic.
This luxury comes at a price, but less than the cost of firstclass.
A Roundtrip ticket to New York, even purchased the day oftravel, costs $645. We checked Delta five days before our flight tosee the price from CVG to Laguardia or JFK. It was $921 for a coachseat.
Time is Money
That Delta/Comair flight pushes back from the gate at 7:30 a.m.,but you'd have to leave your house at the same time because ofparking, check-in and security. If it arrives on-time, the regionaljet gets into Laguardia at 9:36 a.m.
We were already in Manhattan by then.
Similarly, I was in my house before the comparable eveningflight on Delta touched down at CVG. The schedule says 7:36 p.m.
The Chicago flight on Ultimate Air Shuttle costs $495.Changes are fee-free. The flights include a meal service and evenbeer and wine. Luggage flies free, with no limits on the number ofbags you can check.
The primary customers are business travelers spending the day.But more families and leisure travelers are taking advantage of the"no security line" service. Some travelers are staying a few daysat a time.
Ultimate Air Shuttle is planning to add another daily round-tripto both Chicago and New York in the spring. The company is alsoconsidering two new destinations from Lunken -- possiblyWashington, D.C. and Charlotte, North Carolina.