When the Local Airfield Becomes an International Airport: A Look at Massena, N.Y.

Massena, N.Y. is a small town located in Upstate New York. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Vanni Gibertini)

Massena, N.Y., a town of slightly over 12,000 inhabitants just south of the St. Lawrence River, is located a little more than 100 kilometers from both Ottawa and Montreal, and only a 20-minute drive from the Canadian town of Cornwall, Ontario. Though firmly in the United States, the town’s main airport, Massena International Airport, attracts more Canadian passengers traveling to points south than it does American due to the cheaper airfares for domestic flights.

Massena International Airport draws more Canadian passengers than it does American passengers. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Vanni Gibertini)

The small airport does not have any international service and owes its “international” qualification mainly to the service it provides to Canadian travelers, as well as being an official port of entry to the United States. The only commercial service available at this facility is provided by Boutique Air, a San Francisco-based airline operating 33 turboprop aircraft which include the Pilatus PC-12s that serve Massena.

A Boutique Air Pilatus PC-12 turboprop aircraft. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Vanni Gibertini)

The carrier provides three daily flights in each direction to Boston Logan International Airport, allowing for convenient day-trips to Massachusetts or useful as a feeder for flights departing from or originating in Boston. Boutique Air replaced Cape Air as the Essential Air Service operator serving the city just a few years ago, one of the first Upstate New York cities Cape Air was replaced in.

The terminal is a very cozy building at the end of a cross street coming off State Road 37, approximately 3 kilometers from the center of Massena village. A common trend for airports in the region to attract more visitors, parking is free for all passengers and it is just a short walk from the main lot to the terminal.

The one-story terminal of Massena International Airport. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Vanni Gibertini)
Parking is free for all visitors to the airport. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Vanni Gibertini)

In the main lobby, there are two check-in desks for the entire airport, manned only before the three daily departures by Boutique Air staff. There are no shops or outlets selling refreshments, but there is a vending machine next to the toilets in the main hall and, on a table near the check-in desks, a free coffee pot available for all passengers.

Boutique Air is the sole airline at Massena International Airport, replacing Cape Air a few years ago. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Vanni Gibertini)

After the security checkpoint, which consists of a single metal detector and full-body scanner, a small boarding lounge contains a seating area where passengers wait to be communicated their seat assignment. Due to the size of the aircraft, all bags are carefully weighed and labeled at check-in and passengers are requested to state their personal weight in order to balance the aircraft properly. Passengers can then reach the aircraft walking a few steps outside the boarding lounge onto the ramp.

The boarding lounge for the entire airport. (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Vanni Gibertini)

On arrival, passengers transit through a corridor next and arrive in the main lobby of the terminal, bypassing the boarding lounge. The main lobby is also the home to baggage claim where bags, both carry-on and checked bags, are delivered manually by airline staff to passengers who can then exit the building and leave the airport.

Given the size of the infrastructure, should Massena International Airport aspire to one day have jet services, it would need to considerably expand its passenger facilities. Nearby Ogdensburg International Airport, once an all-propeller served airport, is now offering United Express flights to Washington and Chicago, as well as Allegiant Air flights Florida, and Plattsburgh International Airport is also offering United Express service to Washington; Spirit Airlines service to Florida and South Carolina and Allegiant Air service to Florida and South Carolina.

At the moment, Massena International Airport would not be able to handle the volume of passengers generated by even a single-aisle jet aircraft; but for the time being, it remains a good option for people living in the region to reach Boston quickly and cheaply and possibly connect to other services there using Boutique Air interline facilities.

Vanni Gibertini

Vanni fell in love with commercial aviation during his undergraduate studies in Statistics at the University of Bologna, when he prepared his thesis on the effects of deregulation on the U.S. and European aviation markets. Then he pursued his passion further by obtaining a Master’s Degree in Air Transport Management at Cranfield University in the U.K. followed by holding several management positions at various start-up carriers in Europe (Jet2, SkyEurope, Silverjet). After moving to Canada, he was Business Development Manager for IATA for nine years before turning to his other passion: sports writing.
Vanni Gibertini