As part of a bloggers tour with the Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce, I was provided with a free boarding pass to Air Choice One to facilitate this review. All thoughts are 100% honest and my own.
I come from a family of pilots, but I’ve never ridden on a small plane.
My dad and brother have offered to take me up in two-seater planes many times, but I’ve always refused. I’m prone to motion sickness and avoid things that move (where I can’t drive or sit in the front seat) such as boats, busses, trains, and small planes.
So, how did I end up on a Cessna? The Clear Lake Chamber of Commerce partnered with North Iowa’s new air carrier Air Choice One and invited eight North Iowa Bloggers on a trip to Chicago. The trip was intended to demonstrate how easy it is to travel between Mason City and Chicago and spread some Clear Lake love. When Jake and I moved to Mason City in June 2013, the airport actually sat vacant until Air Choice one began offering flights November of 2014. Now, one can either fly to Chicago or St. Louis on a Cessna for about $150, roundtrip.
Although some of my friends have flown on Air Choice One, I missed the part about the planes being Cessnas. I’d seen their photos showing off their spacious leg room and had this mental image of something like this 65-passenger CRJ-700.
We arrived at the Mason City airport two hours early. It shares the building with the Jefferson bus terminal and restaurant called Them People At The Airport Cafe.
Yup, that’s really the name. Them People replaced Bumbleberry Bakery (Yup, that’s also the real name, too) about the time Air Choice One began its contract.
Donna’s mustard to my ketchup. The prices are very affordable (like $4 for a breakfast combo) and I love the colorful flooring.
Unlike MSP, our airport may only host one airline that flies to two destinations, but there’s free parking! When I tweeted about our free airport parking, a Twin Cities friend replied that she didn’t even know how to comprehend that statement. The same person who prints your boarding pass and examines your luggage may also usher you onto the plane. For big city folks, flying out of a small regional airport is really a unique experience.
I remembered Beth had flown Air Choice One before so I asked her, “Hey Beth, are there snacks on the plane?”
“Um, no,” she responded. “It’s a really small plane.” I shrugged but kept picturing that CRJ-700.
“There’s also no bathroom,” someone added. “Just a camper potty and a curtain.”
“WHAT? NO BATHROOM? HOW CAN THIS BE?” I wondered. We passed through security, which enforces the same protocol as any large airport. One has to toss their bottled water here and there isn’t anywhere else to buy a new one. I slurped water from the bathroom sink.
“Hey Sara,” I asked, “Is there beverage service on this flight.”
“Um, no.” she responded.
Imagine my surprise, when I saw our plane pull up to the terminal.
What is this? A plane for ants?
I was really glad I took that motion sickness medicine an hour before. We filed out onto the tarmac.
Obviously, we had to take a photo with the pilots before boarding.
Donna and I switched seats with two of the taller gals and sat in the back. If I sat up as tall as possible, I could touch my head to the ceiling. We looked around and did not see the camper potty, but did notice the curtain which means we rode to Chicago in the bathroom.
Our in-flight reading: The new Clear Lake Chamber magazine.
I’m not gonna lie. The flight to Chicago was bumpy. The weather created some turbulence that almost overpowered the motion sickness medication I took. I had a difficult time on this leg of the flight. We landed at the O’Hare Airport and an Air Choice One rep guided us from the tarmac to the main terminal where we took the train to our hotel downtown.
The actual flight home on Saturday was much smoother, but we experienced some glitches. For, we weren’t supposed to fly home on Saturday but on Friday! We had arrived at the airport early Friday afternoon just as the weather began pouring rain. Air Choice One’s ticket counter is located at the very end of the hallway where the ticket counters end. A Shel Silverstein poem came to mind.
At some point when we were scrambling to find a ticket agent, we asked an airport employee to point us towards Air Choice One. “Air Force One?” he asked in disbelief. “Not exactly,” we responded. He asked where we were flying to and when we replied, “Mason City, IA” he asked “Why the hell would you want to go there?”
“We live there.”
Hopefully some of our North Iowa enthusiasm rubbed off on him:)
Flights everywhere were cancelled or delayed. An Air Choice One rep informed Libbey of Chamber that our flight could arrive 30-minutes late, but that they’d text us the details. We waited. A half-hour after our flight was supposed to land, we had still heard nothing so we called the airline who told us our flight was cancelled. We asked why they hadn’t provided an update about the cancellation and they replied they were just calling us as we were calling them.
Air Choice One had two flights scheduled to return to Mason City the next morning, but the early flight was partially booked. We knew we wanted to send the mothers of young children home first and drew straws for the last open seat. Three bloggers had to return home on the late flight the next day.
Stormy weather affected airlines across the board. I was not frustrated that the flight was cancelled due to bad weather, but that the airline did not communicate this in a timely manner. Since our flight was cancelled due to weather, we were responsible for our meals the next day. The rep from Air Choice One did offer a coupon for a hotel that provides discounts to stranded travelers, but the Clear Lake Chamber generously secured our lodging.
Since flights everywhere were cancelled, many tried to board the hotel shuttles.
We met some chaos as we attempted to board the first shuttle. Our group of eight found seating, and people continued to file onto the shuttle after the seats were filled. The driver announced he was unable to drive if people were standing. “The next one will come in 15-20 minutes,” he pleaded. Nobody wanted to get off the shuttle. It became clear that the people who were standing simply would not exit, so two of us bloggers followed Sara off the shuttle so it could at least leave the station.
Another one arrived shortly after and we found a seat. The shuttle incident made me feel like I was at my wit’s end, but I was encouraged by my companions’ calm demeanor. They’re experienced travelers who are accustomed to navigating unexpected bumps in the road.
We stayed at a very clean and very quiet Doubletree hotel. The Sheraton Chicago had a club room lounge where we enjoyed free snacks and sodas, so we jokingly asked this front desk staff member if they, too had a club room. He very sternly informed us about their “no partying” policy. We giggled and quietly ate our warm Doubletree cookies before going to bed.
The good news is that both flights to Mason City were on time the next day and each left a little earlier than scheduled. Unlike our flight to Chicago, our passage home was smooth sailing. We’re very thankful to the pilots for getting us all safely home to Iowa. After all, this was the most important thing.
Photo Credit: Travel With Sara. Waving goodbye to the three bloggers left behind at the O’Hare.
As I mentioned in my post introducing this Clear Lake Chamber-sponsored Chicago series, our community warmly welcomes Air Choice One. We’re two hours from the Minneapolis and Des Moines Airports and appreciate having a the option to fly to Chicago and St. Louis. My personal suggestions to Air Choice one are to communicate delays and cancellations with their passengers in a timely manner, via phone call or text, since the company doesn’t provide updates their website. I also hope Air Choice One continues to interact with their customers over social media. Someone needs to be available to answer tweets and Facebook messages promptly, most especially when flights are scheduled. I’ve noticed an improvement and hope they keep up the efforts.
Air Choice One is a convenient and affordable option for transportation to and from Chicago and St. Louis. The ticket agents and pilots were exceptionally friendly and personable. However, keep in mind that this is a small airline before booking. They don’t have reciprocity with other airlines and don’t provide lodging or food vouchers for flights delayed due to weather. Cessnas fly at a lower altitude than jumbo jets and so they are more affected by weather. Also, this airline offer fewer flights each day and can only carry eight passengers per flight. Therefore, if you get rescheduled, you may not get home as soon as you’d hope (which could be said for bigger airlines, too).
Also, your mom was right. Always pack an extra pair of clean underwear. I’m sure glad I did.
Thank you again to Air Choice One for providing boarding passes and the Clear Lake Chamber for inviting me on this trip!