Snowfall worse than Montana’s has been disrupting airline flights on the East Coast over the past week, but flights to and from Havre have been having trouble for more than a month.
Many local fliers have had difficulty getting in to or out of Havre in recent months, including Mayor Tim Solomon's family.
The mayor's stepdaughter was supposed to catch one of Great Lakes Airlines’ Sunday flights from Billings to Havre before the holiday, and then return the following Sunday.
“They cancelled both of them,” Solomon said. “It was my understanding that they didn’t have flight crews scheduled for either of them.”
The mayor said he was informed late the night before each flight that the next day's flight was cancelled. He had to drive to Billings himself each time.
Since his stepdaughter never flew, Solomon said he and his family are still trying to get a refund from the airline.
Frank Trocki, Montana State University-Northern chancellor, was a vocal advocate of the airline and it’s change to Denver service, citing how useful it would in his business travels. Since the change, he has attempted to use it, but describes his experience as "fair to bad."
"I think a lot of my misfortune with the airline is weather. And we don’t have the proper radar system for airplanes to land in inclement weather," Trocki said.
Calls to Great Lakes Airlines officials from the Havre Daily News over the past few days have not been returned.
Another inconvenienced Great Lakes customer was Gerry Grabofsky, who was left in Denver overnight, also Thanksgiving week.
“They originally said the weather was bad in Havre,” Grabofsky said. “But we called Havre, and Havre was sitting real pretty. So I went back and talked to the woman at the counter, and she said the plane’s broken and we have to wait for a new plane to come in from North Dakota or something.”
Particularly unfortunate about his delay, for the airline, is that Grabofsky is Havre’s representative for Essential Air Service in Montana.
The EAS program was started in 1978 as a federal subsidy for airlines to provide service to rural airports that would otherwise be unprofitable.
Great Lakes has been offering service to seven Montana airports with this $8,201,992 subsidy, between $928,433 and $2,159,591 per airport, since taking over for Big Sky Airlines March 1, 2008.
That contract expires at the end of February.
Grabofsky said he and the other representatives will meet in Billings Thursday, Jan. 13, to decide between the two bids put in for the subsidy. Great Lakes Airlines, based in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Gulfstream International Airlines, out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., have submitted bids.
Gulfstream runs flights throughout Florida and the Bahamas and provides Essential Air Service flights from Cleveland, Ohio, to destinations in southwest New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Grabofsky said that he was still undecided and had question for both airlines.
“I’m not familiar at all with Gulfstream,” Grabofsky said. “I want to make sure their pilots know what they're getting into coming up to Montana.”
“I’m not real satisfied with the reliability of Great Lakes at this point. Too many passengers have been stranded in Denver overnight, including myself. I’d just like to get better service.”
He said that Gulfstream's proposal cost a little more than Great Lakes’, “but when you’re looking at that amount of money, a few dollars doesn’t amount to much.”
The Gulfstream plan would discontinue the Denver flights and return to the Havre-Billings route that was run before Great Lakes started the Denver connection in November.