The return of commercial airline service in Macon-Bibb County will begin Aug. 18.
Contour Airlines and Middle Georgia Regional Airport officials announced details Wednesday about when flights from Macon to Washington, D.C., will start, as well as ticket costs and more.
There will be an inaugural flight for Macon-Bibb officials Aug. 17 before the public flights start the next day.
People can buy tickets at contourairlines.com. An introductory price of $49 each way will be offered for tickets purchased by July 26. That $49 fare will be available for any flight through Dec. 15 that’s booked during the two-week window.
Standard fares will then range from $69-$199 each way.
Contour will offer 12 weekly round trips, with two each weekday and one on Saturdays and Sundays.
“I know that carriers that served Macon in recent years may have left you disappointed and without reliable air service, and I promise you that will all change on Aug. 17 when Contour Airlines begins service,” Contour Aviation CEO Matt Chaifetz said at Wednesday’s announcement at the airport.
The announcement culminated months of working through logistics for the service after the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a $4.7 million annual subsidy over a two-year period. Contour is the first commercial airline service in Macon since the departure of Silver Airways in November 2014 after just nine months at the south Bibb airport.
“TBI, who manages our airports for Macon-Bibb, they really have stuck with this and pursued it for a couple of years,” Mayor Robert Reichert said.
Those details included ironing out the Washington area airport that people will fly into and out of, and the type of plane that will be flown.
One change from the initial plan is that the flights will be between the Macon airport and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Initially, Washington Dulles International Airport was being looked at as the destination airport.
The decision to go with the Baltimore airport derived from several factors, including input from officials with Geico and Robins Air Force Base. The location should be more convenient for passengers as it offers Amtrak service for people interested in also visiting other cities, such as New York City and Philadelphia, officials said.
The Baltimore, Maryland, airport is about 33 miles from downtown Washington, D.C. The airport, known as BWI, offers free shuttles to a station that provides commuter rail service in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., region.
“Unlike Dulles, it offers direct train service to downtown D.C.,” Chaifetz said Wednesday.
The plane will be a 30-seat Embraer ERJ-135 that’s been reconfigured to provide expanded legroom that is similar to first-class seating. Complimentary snacks and beverages will be provided on the flights, which should take about 1 hour and 25 minutes to reach the destination, according to Contour.
“With Contour, the first checked bag is free. It’s all-leather seating, free snacks,” Chaifetz said. “It’s really a premium product at a price point below what anyone else is offering.”
The nation’s capital was selected because it’s the most popular flight destination for Macon and Warner Robins residents and the second overall behind New York City for all of Middle Georgia.
The Smyrna, Tennessee-based Contour is a certified air carrier by the Department of Defense, meaning that it can take Robins Air Force Base defense personnel and cargo.
New frontier for commercial service
Macon has had a rocky history with commercial airline service in recent years.
Before Silver, another company, Georgia Skies, had a high number of cancellations and delays, and in 2012 the company had fewer than 500 passengers. The airport took another hit in 2008 when a Delta Air Lines subsidiary halted operations.
But officials said they feel confident the Contour and regional airport partnership will be different. Chaifetz pointed to the success he says his company has had with other commercial flight services.
The airline has a high percentage of seats filled for flights it offers between Bowling Green, Kentucky, and the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport in Florida, and from Tupelo, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. Since flights between Tupelo and Nashville started in 2016, 99.8 percent have been completed and 90 percent arrived on time, Chaifetz said.
And at Middle Georgia Regional Airport, a spare plane will be on site in case of any maintenance issues.
“Something we say here at the airport is airports are here to bring people together ... to bridge gaps,” airport manager Erick D’Leon said during Wednesday’s announcement. “This is just another step toward the right direction to do that.”