Photo: Kyle Wagman.
I know I have said this before, but I was not planning on writing about my Martha's Vineyard trip. Thanks to my days flying between New York-JFK and my hometown of Worcester, I have traveled on no aircraft more than JetBlue's Embraer 190. Especially for a thirty-minute flight, what more could there be to talk about? It was not until after I left Martha's Vineyard that I thought it was noteworthy enough to discuss on my little platform, which is another example of how timing is not my thing.
For personal reasons, I had the privilege of recently spending a weekend at Martha's Vineyard. If you are unfamiliar, the island is a popular tourist destination during the summer months, subjecting the airport to seasonal fluctuations in air traffic. At Westchester County Airport, Martha's Vineyard is one of the top destinations during the summer months, along with Nantucket - a sister island to Martha's Vineyard located a short ferry ride away.
For this reason, JetBlue Airways launched daily service between White Plains and Martha's Vineyard this season, of which I was proudly a customer. Previously, the carrier successfully connected White Plains with Nantucket seasonally, which performs as one of the station's most potent flights during summer. It is an attractive business opportunity - the short stage length and cheaper secondary airport cost structures require fewer passengers to make the flight profitable.
This is not the first time White Plains has seen flights to Martha's Vineyard. For the Summer 2021 season, now-defunct carrier Elite Airways based a Bombardier CRJ-200 in Westchester for the season, operating between Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard each day. The flights held their own, although their lackluster performance could likely be more attributed to Elite Airways's reputation. With a poor image in the market and relatively high fares, prospective customers had a weak value proposition - they were better off traveling to either Kennedy or LaGuardia for a much better price.
Elite Airways' inaugural flight to Martha's Vineyard in 2021.
JetBlue and MVY
I have always had a bit of a fascination with the airport on Martha's Vineyard. During the winter months, air traffic is very quiet. The island, known for brutal winters, sees a drastic drop in the local population, leaving the airport with Cape Air as the only scheduled air carrier. With only a 5,504' primary runway, the airport has seen its share of seasonal service over the years with regional jets. However, no airline has made a more profound impact than JetBlue.
The Embraer 190 is a perfect aircraft for airports like Martha's Vineyard, with the performance capability to fit into a smaller airport yet still carry 100 passengers. Service was initially launched in 2011 to New York-JFK and has since grown to five seasonal destinations. Presumably, this will be the last season JetBlue operates the Embraer 190 on these routes. The aircraft type is being retired in favor of the higher-capacity and more efficient Airbus A220-300, with the last Embraer 190 set to leave the fleet in the Spring of 2024.
It is unknown how this will impact JetBlue's service at the airport. The Airbus A220-300 entails many operational adjustments, particularly the forty extra passengers and a larger aircraft footprint. The runway length certainly will not be an issue, but getting to the runway might be interesting! I do not expect these growing pains to be much of a problem - just food for thought.
A JetBlue Embraer 190.
As usual, I was unsure what to expect when I arrived. While all airports are different, we all have a similar picture of their appearance. I assure you whatever that image is for yourself, Martha's Vineyard is far different. To me, the airport felt more like a post office turned airport, in a good way.
After arriving, we parked on a hardstand, as were all the gates. At the moment, Delta and JetBlue are the only large scheduled air carriers, as American does not start until later in the season. I did not take any baggage, but I would have encountered their unique carousel if I did. Instead of the standard bag belt, ramp workers place bags through a window directly onto a shelf, with the window separating the airside and landside areas - the first sign I was not in Kansas anymore.
I always believe the aesthetics should match the local area, of which the Airport does an excellent job. Check-in counters approximate those you find at nicer lodges on the island, with standard labeling across the counters. There is only one line for TSA, which made me wonder what the security line can look like during the busy summer months, especially with inclement weather. Thankfully, TSA PreCheck is available for those who are enrolled. There is no option for CLEAR, which I am sure many passengers frequenting Martha's Vineyard are unhappy about.
Unfortunately, the weather was unseasonably mild, which I did not consider while packing my apparel for the weekend - another one of my weak spots. I will not include any pictures of the hold room for the airport to avoid Sensitive Security Information (S.S.I.). However, I can tell you it is in a tent next to the gate area. With wooden benches and a self-service snack bar, it was enough to get the job done. However, the room was a bit crowded for two half-full Embraer Regional Jets; I was left wondering how crowded it must also get during peak hours in high summer.
JetBlue was the only airline with a kiosk in the waiting area. Even the friendly gate agent working the flight had to utilize a karaoke machine to make all her announcements. For Delta customers, their boarding process was even more interesting. An Unifi employee, Delta's contracted ground handler, walked in with a megaphone to complete all required announcements and scanned boarding passes with a mobile device that may or may not have verified passengers' boarding positions.
MVY Moving Forward
Many of my questions about Martha's Vineyard were answered on my short trip. I had always figured that the airport could sustain at least one daily flight year-round, as getting on and off the island is an extensive process outside of summer. As it stands today, the terminal layout will not allow for operations during the winter season. There is no way to justify passengers waiting in the elements during the brutal New England winter.
Unfortunately, I know enough about the inner workings of Martha's Vineyard to know that local politics will not allow for any improvements to the terminal for fear of expansion. What local communities fail to consider is the resource airports provide for the community - even a daily regional jet to New York City or Boston is essentially a lifeline for the year-round inhabitants of the island.
Safety concerns also arise when capacity is pushed to the limit. As we know, aviation is a complex system and far from perfect. Delays and cancellations are bound to happen, especially during the summer months when thunderstorms occur unpredictably. Airports are responsible for maintaining a safe environment for passengers during these irregular operations.
I hope that, in the future, more airports in highly-political climates come to their senses to make their airports more humane. We know that the organizations that survive these days can adapt, and airports are no exception, even if passengers have no other choice in or out of Martha's Vineyard.