Fate of some airline service up in the air

When I stepped onto a plane the other day, I stepped in the middle of turbulence that’s been going on for years.

It had nothing to do with the weather, though it was raining. Or the plane or the pilot. All  great. In fact, more than great.

Lancaster Airport

A short drive to the airport in Lancaster, PA, where I live. Free airport parking.

Lancaster runway

A half-hour flight aboard commuter airline Cape Air  that was pretty, despite the storm clouds. No matter that the plane was so small, I could make out the cockpit controls as well as the pilot on the trip to BWI — Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Near Baltimore

I may be a scaredy-cat in many instances, but flying’s not one of them. It was fun flying over familiar terrain.

BWI

The plane deposited me just a few gates away from my connecting flight from BWI to Charlotte, where my sister lives. (The first leg of our sisterly escapade to Florida.) I didn’t even need to mess with security again at BWI.

Total cost: $105 round-trip. Not bad, considering it saved me more than an hour of miserable drive time between Lancaster and Baltimore; gas; and more than a week’s worth of parking at BWI. And made it easy for me to take advantage of the relatively cheaper fare from there to North Carolina.

So what’s the problem?

Well, the bigger storm clouds are lurking in DC, in the form of federal deficit-haggling. If some lawmakers have their way, the commercial Lancaster air service, like others linking rural communities to big national airports, would be wiped off the map.

The reason: It costs taxpayers millions of dollars in subsidies.

Congress is divided. Some say in cases where a major airport is less than 90 minutes away, it’s a colossal waste of money and the service should be scrapped. Others say it’s economically vital for these small cities to remain connected.

I can see both sides. In my case, I could have driven to Baltimore. It would have been a pain in the rain, but I’ve done it many times before. Truth is, I’m within driving distance of six major East Coast airports. They range anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours door-to-door. C’est la vie.

And I saw firsthand what some lawmakers are complaining about: They say subsidies are being wasted on planes that fly almost empty. In my case, the flights were half empty.

On the other hand, it was a pleasure to be able to fly right from Lancaster. It gave me a shot at a lower fare, more commonly offered from larger airports like BWI. Fares from smaller regional airports like Harrisburg, PA (the closest real commercial airport to Lancaster), can be so expensive, flying to Europe’s almost cheaper.)

And what about folks who might have to travel long distances for medical treatment, who might have financial and physical difficulty getting there? Who really need the option?

By the way, Amtrak, which serves many more passengers, is also subsidized. And also under the budget microscope right now.

Have to see how it all plays out.

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