A North Country air travel adventure

The Ogdensburg airport terminal.  Photo: James Morgan

The Ogdensburg airport terminal. Photo: James Morgan

I went to Florida recently and booked a low-cost flight with Allegiant Air from Ogdensburg to Sanford, near Orlando. The final price tag was $239.00, round trip. Allegiant is a low-cost, no frills outfit. Customers pay a cheap basic airfare, but they pay extra to reserve a seat, have extra legroom, or check baggage.

There aren’t many services for customers at Ogdensburg airport. There are only two vending machines. If you want coffee, stop in town and get one on the way, but you have to finish it before going through security. I sat in the rather sparse waiting area and talked with people from across eastern Ontario and the North Country. We were all target customers of the airport and Allegiant—people wanting a cheap escape to Florida that bigger airports in Ottawa or Montreal don’t offer.

Passengers wait in Ogdensburg for a flight to Sanford, Florida.  Photo: James Morgan

Passengers wait in Ogdensburg for a flight to Sanford, Florida. Photo: James Morgan

The flight to Sanford was uneventful and I had a wonderful vacation. My only complaint on that trip was that the airline doesn’t accept cash on board. I don’t like using a credit card to pay for small snacks, and they didn’t serve coffee or tea at all!

The trip home wasn’t so comfortable. They warned us before boarding early that morning there was heavy fog in Ogdensburg, but nobody seemed too concerned. “Oh it will clear up,” was the consensus among passengers. It didn’t clear up. From above the clouds, it looked like the North Country was buried in whipped cream. The flight was diverted to Plattsburgh airport where services in the terminal were also minimal. There were vending machines selling items of uncertain vintages. A six-year-old boy from Prescott told me his milk was sour. A man soon arrived and quickly set up a canteen that sold coffee and other packaged food. I got talking with a couple from Ottawa and they said the reason we couldn’t land in Ogdensburg was because there is no on-site air traffic controller and all the weather information for that airport comes from controllers in Boston. A later web search indicated this is true.

The long wait in Plattsburgh.  Photo: James Morgan

The long wait in Plattsburgh. Photo: James Morgan

We were there for nearly three hours. Some read, some slept, children played. Others gave up on making it to Ogdensburg by air and called family or friends to come and pick them up. Allegiant’s communication with the passengers was weak. I saw a very stressed looking pilot walk by a couple of times. There were no changes in the situation.

Finally, just before 2:00 pm (I had been up since 4:00 am), Allegiant announced we were going to fly to Ogdensburg, normally a 22-minute trip. Conditions were still pretty bad. The pilot eased down through the clouds. I briefly saw farmland and forest appear below but we suddenly—almost vertically, went up again above the clouds. There was a collective gasp from the crowd and then complete silence except for a crying baby. The pilot circled and eased through the clouds again. Suddenly I saw Route 68 and the airfield fence, uncomfortably close below. The plane then hit the runway like a rubber ball.

We stopped a short distance from the terminal. Everyone cheered. The cockpit door was open as we exited and the pilot was sitting there, looking completely exhausted. Everyone, including me, thanked him as we passed by. Inside the terminal, a small, worried crowd happily greeted us.

I was in a bit of a daze. I collected my suitcase and walked to my car. The airport has dropped free parking, so I paid $64 when I left the lot. I needed to relax after the wild landing. I had a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. I picked up some things at Price Chopper, then visited some friends. I had just enough adrenaline left to drive up Highway 416 to home.

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