This is Part Three in a short series of trip reports aboard European ultra-low-cost carriers. To view Part One, click…
Trip Report: Chicago to St. Louis on the Cessna 208 – Part 2
In part one of this trip report which can be viewed HERE, I went through the booking process, arrived at the airport, and took off for the first leg of my journey. For this second part, we will go through the rest of my journey.
Since the first part of the trip report was published, Air Choice One has ended service to the two EAS communities featured in this article. SkyWest under the United Express banner has taken over the contract for both Mason City and Fort Dodge. Each city now receives twice-daily nonstop flights to Chicago O’Hare on board a 50-seat CRJ-200.
Just after lifting off from Chicago O’Hare, we began our short climb to the cruising altitude of 5,800 feet. The day turned out to be completely perfect for this trip, with blue skies and almost no clouds at all. Cruising at such a low altitude gave me the chance to see some things I might not normally.
The first sight to see was out of the right side of the aircraft, Chicago Rockford Airport in Illinois. While Allegiant Air is the only airline to currently offer scheduled passenger service from this airport, UPS does operate a small hub at this airport.
In addition to the UPS presence, the airport also features an aircraft painting facility that has frequent visits from carriers such as United and Air Canada.
Being the only passenger, I was able to freely, but very carefully, switch seats to the other side of the aircraft so I could get the views I wanted.
I quickly moved to the left side of the aircraft to get pictures of Dubuque, Iowa, a smaller city that sits along the Mississippi. This city was one that lost all airline service when American Eagle pulled out in October of 2020 when the first round of CARES Act funding ran out, since then the airline has resumed once-daily service once.
I then decided to take a short nap as the slow rocking of the aircraft and the engine noise was putting me to sleep. After waking up from my nap, I saw windmills out of the aircraft windows and shortly after, we passed over downtown Mason City.
Despite the stronger winds in the area, we touched down relatively smoothly in Mason City. After a quick taxi, we arrived at the small terminal building and I was escorted into the post-security waiting area as I was a transiting passenger.
The gate area in Mason City was small and featured just under 20 seats. While this wasn’t a problem when the airport was served by eight-seat propeller planes, I wonder how they would handle a full load of 50-passengers, if they ever get a full load that is.
Under normal circumstances, the flights wouldn’t be operating at the same time, but due to my almost two-hour delay, the flight back to Chicago and my flight onward to Fort Dodge occurred at pretty much the same time.
The single customer service agent I saw at Mason City handled the extra workload with ease and seemed to have no frustration with it. I would once again be the only passenger for the flight onward to Fort Dodge, with seven passengers headed back to Chicago O’Hare.
With the light load and strong headwinds, we quickly lifted off the runway for our flight to Fort Dodge. This flight would be a short 27-minutes and went by in almost an instant.
Upon landing at Fort Dodge, we were once again overlapping with another flight. This is due to our now two-hour delay and the other flight’s early arrival.
Fort Dodge seemed a lot more disorganized than Mason City, despite three customer service agents working the two flights. As I walked into the terminal I was told to leave the secure area and wait for my flight which would leave in a couple of hours, I explained that I was going back out on the same plane I came in on, but they insisted that my plane was yet to arrive.
After insisting that it was indeed my plane, and having me explain my flight details and flight number to a second airline representative, it turned out I was correct after all. My persistence paid off in the end as the plane may have left without me had I not insisted they check again.
Now that the details were figured out, I decided to walk around the gate area in Fort Dodge.
The gate area only had about five-or-so more seats than in Mason City, but the area was much more spacious than the prior. The windows onto the ramp let some nice light into the room and made it feel more open. If the 50-seat jet actually ever has a full load, 50 passengers could fit into this area, although the re-arrangement of seats would be necessary.
For my final flight onto St. Louis, I would have another passenger with me, yep, one other passenger. We were taken out to the plane separately, when I stated to them “so you are loading passengers individually?” the response I received was, “uuuuhhh, I mean kind of”.
At first, I thought it might be due to social distancing, but they then proceeded to sit us next to each other in the back of the aircraft. No matter the reason for the individual walkout, we took off from Fort Dodge and began to turn towards St. Louis.
After taking off we turned southeast and began the climb to our cruising altitude of 8,800 feet. By this time in the flight the sun began to set below the horizon, something I would’ve not been able to see had our flight been on time.
Not only aviation enthusiasts enjoy flights on aircraft like this, the other passenger even had me take a picture of him reclining in the seat so he could send it to his family.
While the delay isn’t the most ideal thing for a passenger, not having a set and firm schedule and deadline the delay actually worked nicely as I got some amazing views of the sunset and city lights along the route to St. Louis.
Seeing the cockpit instrument panel and the city light up a dark cabin is a truly spectacular experience as a passenger on an airline that isn’t often seen anymore.
We then proceeded to land in St. Louis after flying over some stunning city lights. After landing we taxied and parked at the closed D-gates and were then taken by a van to the Air Choice One gate in the C-terminal.
This was a true experience and routing that no longer exists as of March 1, 2021, when United Express operated by SkyWest takes over the route. On March 1, 2021, Air Choice One also ceased service completely to Minneapolis St. Paul as the twin cities were part of the contracts in Mason City and Fort Dodge.
There are many airlines around the country that offer connecting flights in EAS cities like this, you just have to know where to look.
EAS connections are definitely not the way to go if you have a strict time commitment and have little flexibility with your schedule, as shown by this trip report, flights do sometimes get delayed for multiple hours at a time.
But if you have the time to do so and wish to have a small adventure, these EAS connections are something you should look into.
A video report of this trip has also been created which can be viewed using the link below.
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