Cape Air is a Massachusetts-based U.S. commuter airline that recently began service between Boston and Ogdensburg, in upstate New York, about one hour’s drive from Ottawa.
It was by chance that I sat next to the pilot, a woman who looked to be in her 20s. There were nine passengers on the fully booked flight, and someone usually has to sit up front next to the pilot.
The tiny Cessna twin-propeller aircraft is a type also used for pilot training. There was a control stick and instrument panel in front of me, and I was incredulous – and a bit scared – when I realized we had just one pilot.
I learned on three subsequent legs of my travel on Cape Air – round-trip from Ogdensburg to Boston, with stops in Albany, N.Y. in both directions – that the cockpit seat is eagerly sought by passengers.
Ogdensburg is so close to Canada’s capital that it’s almost like an additional airport for the Ottawa area. But of course you have to allow additional time to make a flight, in case there’s any delay at the border crossing – which there wasn’t in my case – in either direction.
Word of Cape Air’s Ogdensburg-Albany-Boston service is getting around. I noticed that almost half the cars in the airport’s free long-term parking area had Ontario licence plates.
Can you save money by flying from Ogdensburg? You can certainly save a bundle if your destination is Boston, the major hub for air service in the six-state New England area.
I flew on a complimentary ticket, provided by Cape Air when it learned OBJ was planning an article about its Ogdensburg service.
In comparing airfares, my advice is to never, never, ever compare apples and oranges. Airlines are notorious for their “loss-leader” advertised fares, prices that very few travellers actually secure.
I find the only reliable way to compare airfares is to tell the airline exactly when you plan to fly. I chose an outbound flight to Boston on July 9 and return on July 16. Air Canada’s round-trip fare, Ottawa-Boston, on those dates was $682 when I checked. That included $138 in unspecified “taxes, fees, charges and surcharges.”
Cape Air’s round-trip fare, Ogdensburg-Boston, on those dates was US$189, including $25 in taxes.
Allowing for exchange costs, the savings in flying from Ogdensburg amounted to about $450, a staggering sum. Of course, the Air Canada flight should be a lot quicker and more comfortable, with non-stop service from Ottawa to Boston in just over one hour. Cape Air’s Ogdensburg-Boston service is scheduled to take about two and a half hours, including the stop in Albany to let off and pick up passengers.
Recently, the Canadian Airports Council complained that Canadian airports are at a disadvantage, because U.S. airports get more government subsidies. That may be. But Air Canada quoted me a fare of $544 – before taxes and charges – for that Ottawa-Boston round-trip. Cape Air’s Ogdensburg-Boston round-trip fare was US$164, before taxes and charges.
Cape Air is a small airline. It flies unpopular routes. And Cape Air’s planes fly at about one-third of the speed of commercial jets, and at about one-fifth of the altitude. They are buffeted by winds and air currents. As that female pilot told us when we encountered turbulence on our approach to Albany during the return journey: “It’s going to be wobbly from here on in.”
But once I was safely on the ground, I decided the flight was fun. How often can you say that about jet travel these days?