Report last week that a new international airline is coming to New York Stewart International Airport later this year raised hopes that it will play a key role in the airport’s efforts to bounce 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 in recent years and was first unveiled this month.
Several airlines have suspended Stewart’s service over the past two years, and currently only two airlines offer regular scheduled flights.
On Tuesday, the Port Authority, which Stewart runs, announced that PLAY Airlines will offer daily flights to Reykjavik, Iceland, where it is based, and from there will provide a springboard for international travelers to reach more than 20 European cities.
Flights begin June 9 at Stewart, which lies along the border between the towns of Newburgh and New Windsor in Orange County.
Melanie Combe is one of the travelers looking forward to the arrival of PLAY to Stewart.
The Middletown native now lives in Glasgow, Scotland. She flew regularly with Norwegian Air, Stewart’s last international airline, while it was there from 2017 to 2019. Norwegian was convenient for her as it flew to several destinations in the UK.
“Now when I fly home, I have to fly from Glasgow or Edinburgh to London, and from London to Newark,” said Combe. “Then I’ll have a two-hour drive home (to Middletown). I’d love to fly to Stewart from the UK, as I’ve done before.”
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Danielle Rothman Ward, a Stewart regular who lives in Wappingers Falls in Dutchess County, was also excited about 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 Stewart’s convenience and prefers driving to Kennedy, LaGuardia, or Newark airports—which are also operated by Port Authority—or even the relatively close option of Westchester County Airport.
“It’s so convenient to fly out of Stewart instead of driving to Westchester, or worse, New York City,” Ward said. “Who wants to add a few hours of extra travel time to a well-deserved vacation?”
When announcing the arrival of the new airline, Port Authority officials portrayed it as part of their overall plan to expand both domestic and international service to Stewart.
In the fall of 2019, just months before the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily halted air traffic — among other things — the Port Authority’s supervisory board approved a five-point plan to expand Stewart’s service.
Part of that plan was to find a successor to Norwegian Air, a financially overstretched airline that, before departing Stewart, was responsible for 600,000 international passengers passing through Stewart between 2017 and 2019.
Stewart saw its annual passenger volume rise from a record low of 275,421 in 2016 to 448,323 in 2017, the first year Norwegian Air left the airport.
Stewart’s total passenger volume rose to 690,441 in 2018, Norwegian’s only full calendar year at the airport, before falling to 525,281 in 2019, when Norwegian first scaled back its operations and then discontinued service altogether.
The Port Authority said at the time that Norwegian Air was also injured by grounding its 737 Max fleet.
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PLAY was one of the potential aviation partners approached by the Port Authority during the search launched in the context of the five-point plan of 2019.
And PLAY apparently saw the potential in Stewart, as evidenced by a statement from their CEO Birgir Jonsson presented to the media at the announcement. (No one from the airline was able to attend the announcement in person.)
“New York Stewart International Airport provides a convenient location for both New Yorkers and travelers in surrounding states,” Jonsson said. “Stewart also gives inbound European travelers access to local attractions and Manhattan.
“We expect a comeback in travel 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 arrival facility.”
Work on that facility, which began several years ago, continued even when Norwegian pulled out, as it would still be needed eventually, according to Alex Minton, manager of air services development at the Port Authority.
“This has been a priority for us,” Minton said.
The 20,000-square-foot arrivals hall cost $37 million to build.
Before that facility was developed, when an international flight arrived, part of the regular arrival area would be cordoned off and a “pop-up” customs and border guard inspection station would be established.
PLAY offers one-way tickets that cost just $109.
There have recently been media reports that another airline offering international flights – Norse Atlantic Airways – would be flying to Stewart later this year. But Port Authority officials said those reports were premature.
“They had named Stewart in a report” to the federal government, Minton said. “But no official announcement has been made yet.”
Norse Atlantic Airways could not be reached for comment.
Still, any airline, new or old, would probably be welcome at Stewart.
The pandemic and the temporary absence of air travel took their toll at many airports, and it was especially tough on Stewart.
Three airlines have discontinued service in 2020: JetBlue, their most popular airline, which flies daily to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Delta, with daily nonstop flights to Detroit; and American, who flew to Philadelphia.
As a result, Allegiant – which, like JetBlue and PLAY, falls into the ‘low-cost’ category – is temporarily the only airline serving the airport. They’re still around, currently with flights to Orlando-Sanford, Punta Gorda, and St. Pete-Clearwater, all in Florida; Myrtle Beach, SC; and Savannah, Georgia.
Last fall, another low-cost carrier, 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 the Port Authority’s website as a Stewart airline, stating that the service has been suspended. Officials from the Port Authority did not know when the status of that airline might change.
“I think we all miss and loved the convenience of their flights and options,” Wappingers Falls Stewart flyer said of the JetBlue suspension. She has also flown on Allegiant flights from Stewart.
In his pursuit of a more commercial flight service, Stewart is also getting support outside of its gates from Orange County’s two business promotion 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 established to promote Stewart.
Halahan said she, her counterpart in the room, Heather Bell-Meyer, and Amanda Dana, Orange County Tourism Director, will lead the committee’s efforts to unite key stakeholders in the Hudson Valley business community, among other things. , especially those who benefit from it. of tourists, in raising Stewart’s exposure and assessing the region’s travel needs.
Halahan said she may have some specific developments to report soon.
When PLAY’s flights begin, Stewart will also relaunch the express bus service between the airport and the Midtown Bus Terminal in Manhattan. Those trips will be scheduled to coincide with the arrival of inbound flights from Iceland.
Minton said another shuttle service launched years ago is also still in operation.
Leprechaun Lines, a local bus service, offers a shuttle service to the Metro-North train station in Beacon, for inbound passengers traveling to New York City.