“Flying higher with Contour Airlines” was the theme on Tuesday as officials and community members gathered for the announcement of the airline being selected as Mid-Delta Regional Airport’s new essential air service (EAS) carrier.
Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons, Airport Director Sam Washington and Contour Airlines CEO Matt Chaifetz all approached the podium to talk about the rewarding impact Contour Airline’s service is anticipated to have on the airport, the City of Greenville and the surrounding areas.
Joined by council members and mayors from neighboring municipalities were Contour Airlines executives and staff, officials of the Washington County Economic Alliance, MARS representatives and public safety officials.
“Back in 2015, before this administration took office, we had only 716 enplanements for that year. We were humbled, but we kept pushing the boundaries,” Simmons highlighted. “The very first year of our administration, we reached 4,800 enplanements and some years later, we’re moving to jet service. But we did that with the help of our federal partners, our state partners and more importantly the Greenville City Council.”
Chaifetz reflected on how the 40 year old company has evolved and still has many facets of operation — private jet charters for a host of large companies, entertainers, and sports teams, a retail maintenance facility in Smyrna, Tennessee and a flight training organization at the general aviation airport in Nashville.
“The airline side of our business started in 2016 and it started right here in the state of Mississippi. Contour Airlines’ first route was Tueplo to Nashville,” he recalled, noting at the time, the company’s legal name was Corporate Flight Management. “We had no airline brand, no reservation system, no livery for our airplanes and at the time we were operating Jet Stream 3132 turboprops. But the City of Tupelo and the state of Mississippi took a chance on Contour and they trusted us with their air service and we delivered.”
“Every year since, Contour has carried more than 10,000 people from Tupelo, significantly growing their service. To Mayor Simmons’ point, we hope to continue that trend. One of the ways we hope to continue that trend is by introducing newer, larger, safer equipment with our Embraer Regional Jet.”
Contour Airlines’ Embraer Regional Jet marks a significant moment for not only the airport, but its director Sam Washington, as it has been his goal since assuming the role to get the airport “back to the level Greenville once enjoyed and reach 10,000 emplanements.”
“My charge that I gave to the council when they hired me was that it’s my goal to make this airport the best commercial service airport in the three-state area. So, we’ve come a long way but we’ve got a long way to go, but this is just one more step in getting us there,” Washington said before thanking the council for supporting all the ideas he brings forth. “We’ve been able to get a lot done. I’ve got a good team here and I’m grateful for them and appreciate them ever so much and thanks to everyone in the community who has supported us.”
Washington was also sure to declare his heartfelt appreciation for his wife in that she allows him to spend much of his time working to meet the goals he has set for the airport.
Chaifetz said of the Contour aircraft, “Our Embraer Regional Jets were designed to hold anywhere from 37 to 50 passengers depending on the exact model of the aircraft and we’ve reconfigured them to seat only 30 passengers, which means that every seat on the airplane has the amount of legroom that you’d get in first class on most major airlines. That’s 36 inches of pitch or more — the distance we measure from the back of the seat to the front of the seat and to the back of the seat in front of you.”
In addition to its generous legroom, every flight operated by Contour has a flight attendant, full lavatory service, snack and beverage service in route to one’s destination and the inclusion of a complimentary checked bag with a standard fare purchase.
Chaifetz also pointed out that not only can passengers book fares on Contour’s website, but as an American Airline interline partner, passengers can book a ticket from Greenville to anywhere in the world that American flies as a single ticket.
“So I’m very proud to announce that beginning Oct. 1, Contour Airlines will offer a daily flight to Dallas, Fort Worth,” he said, noting that Contour’s flights will arrive at the main terminal, eliminating the need for rescreening and providing the convenience of bags being checked through to passengers’ final destinations if they’ve purchased the ticket with American Airlines. “We think that adds significant value and convenience for people traveling out of Greenville and the entire Delta region.”
Contour Airlines will also be offering five times weekly service to Nashville with the exception of Tuesdays and Saturdays, in addition to the daily Dallas service.
Chaifetz was especially excited to announce that for the next two weeks, every flight the airline has on sale from now through April, will have at least 20% of its seats allocated for just $29 each way.
“And while $29 each way to Dallas and Nashville is an introductory fare, I think it’s important to point out that even our long-term fares in this market will be very reasonable. Our lowest long-term fare starts at just $39 and maxes out just over the $100 mark for a fully refundable ticket,” he noted. “So, we think that the value that we’re bringing with an improved product with more affordable fares is the best way that we can gain the trust of this community — by offering a fare that allows everyone to come experience the Contour product and service for themselves.
Low fares, however, aren’t the only way Contour endeavors to earn the community’s trust, but by increasing staffing levels in the airport and adding “several more” employees than the airport’s current carrier — Boutique Airlines — whose service will conclude Sept. 30.
“We’ll be overnighting our crews here in Greenville and the airplane will be sleeping here every night. So we think that this new service is going to be a huge economic driver for the region and we couldn’t be more excited to be here,” Chaifetz said.
After the announcement of Contour Airlines as the new EAS carrier, a tour of the aircraft was conducted for those in attendance and community members.
“This is fantastic. And this is nice leg room,” Dr. Mary Alice Jennings said as she sat in one of the seats of the aircraft. “I used to travel a lot for work, but I’m retired now, so I travel for pleasure.”
Jennings added that while the other aircraft she traveled in from Greenville was nice, it only had eight seats.
“This has 30, so it’s going to be a welcomed addition,” she said.
Metcalfe Mayor Walter McDavid said he thinks the Contour Airlines is going to be great.
“I’ve already tried to book two flights. I was talking to Matt (Chaifetz) and said “Are you sure y’all don’t want to start Sept. 15 instead of October?”” McDavid jokingly said. “I’m actually excited to fly out of Greenville instead of New Orleans because I’m a big Jet Blue fan.”
Chaifetz said as community members toured the aircraft, “I think anytime we have the opportunity to come into a market where not only are we bringing what we think is great service, but also a substantially improved product, it’s really rewarding. To go from a single engine turboprop to a 30 seat jet service is a big deal.”
He added, “The speed of the trip, the comfort while you’re on board and 36 inches of legroom or more, I really think it’s going to be a catalyst for further development in Greenville. “