Today, I went to Pittsburgh for lunch.
While a quick roundtrip for a Primanti Bros. sandwich is not likely going to be the main use of Contour Airlines’ new nonstop service to Pittsburgh, it was definitely a fun and eye-opening way to experience this new route.
With headquarters in the Nashville area, Contour operates small jets that now service 18 American airports, with the addition of the new Milwaukee-Pittsburgh-Indianapolis route.
Jets for this route are based in Indy and fly to Milwaukee, where they then head out on a round-trip to Pittsburgh before returning to Indianapolis.
“We were focused on Indianapolis,” says CEO Matt Chaifetz. “We have support from the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, but really for our size aircraft our bread and butter routes are 250 to about 500 miles.
"So you draw radius around Indianapolis and you look at the biggest underserved business markets and these cities are at the top of the list.”
Chaifetz says that Contour operates two kinds of service: one is essential air service, which aims to connect small, underserved communities.
“One is we operate what's called Essential Air Service," he explains. "Those are routes from rural communities to hub airports, where the federal government subsidizes us to provide connectivity to cities that wouldn't otherwise have air service.”
"Then there are markets that we choose and we're financially responsible for.”
That’s the kind of service Milwaukee has.
So, Contour needs to provide passengers with the service and amenities that will make the route profitable.
And their Embraer ERJ-135 jets offer that.
Built to seat nearly 40 passengers, rows were removed and reconfigured for 30 in these jets, which means every row has at least 36 inches of leg room, which is about what most first-class passengers get on many airlines.
That’s a big plus.
If you’re lucky enough to nab seat 1A on these jets, you can stretch your legs all the way and unless you’re named Giannis, your shoes won’t get anywhere near the bulkhead in front of you.
There are free snacks and soft drinks and the in-flight and airport staff I interacted with were, to a person, welcoming, smiling and accommodating, and there’s one other amenity that’s a big deal these days.
Every ticket gets a free checked suitcase.
If, say, a family of four is headed to The Burgh to visit grandma and grandpa, that's a substantial savings.
“Business travelers will enjoy the ability to fly to both of these markets nonstop for about an hour,” Milwaukee’s airport director, Brian Dranzik just before cutting the ribbon on the first flight to Pittsburgh on Tuesday morning.
“Leisure travelers will find that these flights make a much easier trip for visiting families and friends. And travelers of all types will enjoy low fares and comfortable in-flight experience with direct service from Milwaukee to Pittsburgh.”
After the ribbon was cut, the other passengers and I boarded the maiden voyage and as we taxiied out to the runway, the Mitchell International Airport fire trucks drenched us in a water cannon salute.
We departed on time and the flight – which lasted an hour; it’s a mere 37 minutes to Indy! – was smooth and quiet, and we landed on time.
Did I mention there was Champagne and mimosas – served by the Contour CEO – to celebrate the new route?
With just an hour before I was scheduled to turn around and take the maiden return voyage from The Burgh back to Brew City, I located the airport directory to find Primanti Bros.
Surely with the trend among airports of featuring hometown favorites, there would be an outpost of this Pittsburgh classic, which dates back to 1933.
And, of course, there was.
A beer each for me and my coworker – Southern Tier and Brew Gentleman IPAs – plus a classic Pitts-Burger (the No, 2 seller at Primanti Bros. ... beer is No, 1) and an Italian sausage and cheese and we were fully fueled, Pittsburgh style.
Like the flight out, the return flight pulled away from the terminal at exactly the scheduled time and got us back to Milwaukee right on time.
“Contour is not a new carrier,” says Chaifetz, as a nod to the fact that the name might be unfamiliar to many Milwaukee travelers. “We're new to Milwaukee, but we've been around since 2016 as an airline brand. The company itself has been in business since 1982.
“We're thrilled to be able to continue to expand the Contour route map and to add Milwaukee, too.”
Though there are no plans for Milwaukee expansion yet, Chaifetz says the goal is to add more nonstop routes and suggested that places like Cincinnati and Columbus potentially fit the profile of cities that could be in that future.
Fares start at $99 one way, according to Chaifetz. Service to Indianapolis runs seven days a week, while Pittsburgh is serviced Sundays through Fridays.
You can check routes, flights and rates at contourairlines.com.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.