Word last week that a new international carrier is coming to New York Stewart International Airport later this year sparked hope that it will play a key role in the airport’s effort to come back in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It will also be the first airline to use Stewart’s new $37 million international arrivals facility, which has been added to the north end of the terminal over the past few years and was unveiled for the first time this month.
Several airlines suspended service from Stewart during the past two years, and at the present time only two airlines are offering regularly scheduled flights.
On Tuesday, Port Authority, which runs Stewart, announced that PLAY Airlines will offer daily flights to Reykjavik, Iceland, where it is based, and from there provide a springboard for international travelers to reach more than 20 European cities.
Flights will begin June 9 at Stewart, which sits along the border between the towns of Newburgh and New Windsor in Orange County.
Melanie Combe is among the travelers looking forward to PLAY’s arrival at Stewart.
The Middletown native now lives in Glasgow, Scotland. She regularly flew on Norwegian Air, Stewart’s last international airline, while it was there from 2017 to 2019. Norwegian was convenient for her because it flew to several destinations in the United Kingdom.
“Now, when I fly home, I have to fly from Glasgow or Edinburgh to London, and from London to Newark,” Combe said. “Then I have a two-hour drive home (to Middletown). I would gladly fly into Stewart from the UK as I have before.”
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Danielle Rothman Ward, a regular Stewart passenger who lives in Wappingers Falls in Dutchess County, also was excited by the news about PLAY Airlines.
Ward said the arrival of PLAY “would be a pleasant and gradually accepted change” at the airport.
“Right now we don’t have many options for international flights without having to travel south,” Ward said.
Ward likes the convenience of Stewart and prefers it to having to drive to Kennedy, LaGuardia or Newark airports — which are also run by Port Authority — or even the relatively close option of Westchester County Airport.
“It is so convenient flying out of Stewart versus driving down to Westchester, or worse, New York City,” Ward said. “Who wants to add a few extra hours of travel time to a well-needed vacation?”
In announcing the new airline’s arrival, Port Authority officials portrayed it as part of their overall plan to expand both domestic and international service at Stewart.
In the fall of 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily shut down air travel — among many other things — Port Authority’s board of commissioners approved a five-point plan to expand Stewart service.
One part of that plan was to find a successor to Norwegian Air, a financially overextended airline which, before pulling out of Stewart, was responsible for 600,000 international passengers passing through Stewart between 2017 and 2019.
Stewart saw its annual passenger volume go from a record low 275,421 in 2016 to 448,323 in 2017, the first year Norwegian Air flew out of the airport.
Stewart’s total passengers number rose to 690,441 in 2018, Norwegian’s only full calendar year at the airport, before falling back to 525,281 in 2019, when Norwegian was first scaling back its operations and then stopped service altogether.
Port Authority said at the time that Norwegian Air was also hurt by the grounding of its 737 Max fleet.
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PLAY was one of the potential airline partners approached by Port Authority during the search launched under the 2019 five-point plan.
And PLAY apparently saw the potential in Stewart, as indicated by a statement from their CEO Birgir Jonsson presented to members of the media at the announcement. (No one from the airline was able to attend the announcement in person.)
“New York Stewart International Airport offers a convenient location for both New Yorkers and travelers in surrounding states,” Jonsson said. “Stewart also gives incoming European travelers access to local attractions and Manhattan.
“We expect a travel comeback this year, and our passengers will benefit from our convenient flights with some of the lowest fares to Europe, with the added benefit of (Stewart’s) new international arrivals facility.”
Work on that facility, which began several years ago, continued even as Norwegian was pulling out, because it would still be needed eventually, according to Alex Minton, Port Authority’s manager of air service development.
“This has been a priority for us,” Minton said.
The 20,000-square-foot arrivals facility costs $37 million to build.
Before that facility was developed, when an international flight arrived, a section of the regular arrivals area would be cordoned off and a “pop-up” Customs and Border Protection inspection station would be established.
PLAY will offer one way tickets costing as little as $109.
There have been media reports recently that another airline offering international flights — Norse Atlantic Airways — would begin service at Stewart later this year. But Port Authority officials said those reports were premature.
“They had mentioned Stewart in a report” to the federal government, Minton said. “But there has been no official announcement yet.”
Norse Atlantic Airways could not be reached for comment.
Still, any airline, new or old, likely would be welcomed at Stewart.
The pandemic and the temporary absence of air travel took its toll on many airports, and it was especially hard on Stewart.
Three airlines suspended service in 2020: JetBlue, their most popular airline, which had daily flights to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale in Florida; Delta, which had daily nonstop flights to Detroit; and American, which flew to Philadelphia.
That temporarily left Allegiant — which, like JetBlue and PLAY, is in the “low-cost” category — as the only airline serving the airport. They are still there, currently with flights to Orlando-Sanford, Punta Gorda and St. Pete-Clearwater, all in Florida; Myrtle Beach, SC; and Savannah, Ga.
Last fall, another low-cost airline, Frontier, arrived and began offering flights to Orlando four times a week and Fort Lauderdale and Tampa three times a week.
JetBlue is still listed on Port Authority’s website as a Stewart airline, with a notation that service is suspended. Port Authority officials did not know when that airline’s status might change.
“I think we all miss and loved the convenience of their flights and options,” Ward, the Stewart flyer from Wappingers Falls, said of the JetBlue suspension. She has also flown on Allegiant flights out of Stewart.
In its pursuit of more commercial flight service, Stewart also is getting support outside its gates, from Orange County’s two business-promoting agencies, the Orange County Partnership and the Orange County Chamber of Commerce.
Maureen Halahan, president and CEO of the Partnership, said a new committee, the Stewart Air Service Development Committee, has been formed to promote Stewart.
Halahan said she, her counterpart at the chamber, Heather Bell-Meyer, and Amanda Dana, Orange County’s director of tourism, will lead the committee’s efforts to, among other things, unite key stakeholders in the Hudson Valley’s business community, especially those who benefit from tourists, in building awareness of Stewart and assessing the region’s travel needs.
Halahan said she soon might have some specific developments to report.
When PLAY’s flights begin, Stewart also will relaunch express bus service between the airport and the Midtown Bus Terminal in Manhattan. Those trips will be scheduled to coincide with the arrival of incoming flights from Iceland.
Minton said another shuttle service launched years ago is still in operation, too.
Leprechaun Lines, a local bus service, provides shuttle service to the Metro-North train station in Beacon, for incoming passengers who want to get to New York City.
This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: Stewart Airport welcomes PLAY airlines, new $37M facility