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United Airlines CRJ200 operated by SkyWest at Muskegon-County Airport (Photo: AirlineGeeks | Joey Gerardi)

SkyWest Reduces Essential Air Service Flights

Essential Air Service (EAS) is a group of government-funded airports around the country that airlines bid for and then are respectively won. Contracts are by law required to be followed out until completion unless they want to face heavy fines under federal law. In mid-January 2022, SkyWest announced its intentions to terminate service to two EAS cities in Northern New York — Ogdensburg and Plattsburgh — in 90-days. This intention was denied by the Department of Transportation (DOT) unless the cities could find another carrier to start a contract.

Since that announcement, Plattsburgh and Ogdensburg have both begun the long and tedious EAS bidding process, and each of the cities has had only one bidder — Plattsburgh had Cape Air, and Ogdensburg’s only eligible bidder was Boutique Air. The two cities are now awaiting the final word from the DOT as to which airline will take over services in both cities at which point SkyWest is allowed to leave once both airlines have successfully begun services to each respective city.

Reduced Frequencies

Although it has not requested to leave, SkyWest has announced the intent to reduce service frequencies in 18 EAS contracts. In the following cities, the airline will reduce the number of weekly flights from 12 to 10:

•  Alamosa, Colo.

•  Scottsbluff, Neb.

•  Dodge City, Kan.

•  Fort Dodge, Iowa

•  Hays, Kan.

•  Laramie, Wyo.

•  North Platte, Neb.

•  Liberal, Kan.

•  Pueblo, Colo.

•  Vernal, Utah

•  Cape Girardeau, Mos.

•  Decatur, Ill.

•  Mason City, Iowa

•  Muskegon, Mich.

•  Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

•  International Falls, Minn.

All of the above are cities that SkyWest fly’s to under the United Express brand, except for International Falls, which is flown under the Delta Connection brand.

Plattsburgh and Ogdensburg flights will be — and have already been — reduced from 12 to seven weekly flights, essentially giving the two New York cities only one flight per day.

The airline is citing all of the scheduling changes to “a staffing imbalance caused by the COVID-19 pandemic”.

A New Tag

In addition to all of the previously mentioned frequency reductions, SkyWest/United has also loaded a tag flight into its system with the cities of Lewisburg, West Vir. and Shenandoah, Vir. Both cities currently receive nonstop flights to both Washington D.C.’s Dulles International Airport and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport under the EAS program. But come March 4, they will be combining the services to a tag flight.

The flights will operate Washington Dulles to Shenandoah, then onto Lewisburg, and finally to Chicago O’Hare. This same routing will be operated, but in reverse, in the evenings. With the new tag flights, Shenandoah will be losing its nonstop service to Chicago, and Lewisburg will be losing its nonstop to Washington D.C., but will both still operate it with the connection in the other EAS city.

How the flights will operate to Lewisburg and Shenandoah (Photo: Great Circle Mapper)

This new tag flight will last for less than a month, reverting back to the old way at the beginning of April 2022, but could be extended further if the situation calls for it.

If you are looking for a fun or unique way of getting between Chicago and Wahington D.C., this may be the way to go, and the United website even gives you the possibility of flying between Lewisburg and Shenandoah if you are so inclined to.

With staffing shortages becoming more common as the pandemic drags on, this trend of schedule reductions could become a normal thing and we could see even more tag flights added before this is over. All flights and routes mentioned in this article are flown on the 50-seat CRJ-200.

Author

  • Joe has always been interested in planes, for as long as he can remember. He grew up in Central New York during the early 2000s when US Airways Express turboprops ruled the skies. Being from a non-aviation family made it harder for him to be around planes and would only spend about three hours a month at the airport. He was so excited when he could drive by himself and the first thing he did with the license was get ice cream and go plane spotting for the entire day. When he has the time (and money) he likes to take spotting trips to any location worth a visit. He’s currently enrolled at Western Michigan University earning a degree in Aviation Management and Operations.

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