By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – A nine-passenger Cessna Caravan sat on the tarmac at Clegg Field in Oxford on Wednesday afternoon, with scores of people admiring its wide leather seats and ample luggage bay.
“Thirty-five years ago this year, the old Southern Airways … flew their last flight out of this very airport,” said Stan Little, CEO of a new airline that will offer daily service. “Thirty-five years later, Southern Airways Express is back in Oxford.”
Little’s remarks came at a press conference and ribbon-cutting for the hybrid air service – not quite conventional airline, not quite charter – that will fly 12 routes a week from Oxford starting June 20 that include Destin and Panama City, Fla., adding New Orleans on June 26.
The unconventional airline’s appeals include 15-minute check-ins, online security screening and nonstop flights to small airports near city centers or beaches. Southern Airways Express’ twin-prop planes offer spacious leather upholstery, free use of iPads, great views, no luggage fees and fares ranging from $129 to $249 each way, with Sunday night flights at just $18 to $38.
Many in the crowd could be heard making plans for their next beach vacation.
“We’re going to take our baby-sitter with us to Destin,” said one woman as she climbed aboard. “I told her I’d check out the plane today.”
A young boy, admiring the cockpit and the pilots’ blue suede shoes, declared himself to be an aspiring aviator.
One person with a personal interest in the air service was Susan Dempsey, a stewardess on Southern Airways DC-3s during the 1960s, when a typical flight from New Orleans to Atlanta included several stops.
“They didn’t serve food on board, but you had time to go into the Laurel cafeteria and order your lunch,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience. It was a lot of Northern people, and they loved my Southern accent; they kept me talking on the mike.”
Company counsel and director Jay Hughes is confident of the service’s business model.
“We went live on the Internet … last Thursday, and so far there’s been an overwhelming response, with about 70 percent of our available seats sold through the summer,” he said. “We think we are beneficiaries of travelers’ frustrations with the larger airports and going through all the security with them – and the fact that Delta has eliminated just about all direct flights from Memphis to any leisure destinations.”
For more information, visit www.iflysouthern.com or call (800) 329-0485.