Thursday afternoon, the signature single-prop, nine-seater plane associated with Southern Airways Express popped into Chattanooga for a moment, and a woman headed to Memphis to see her son climbed on-board.
The plane buzzed, waddled down the tarmac and took off toward Blues City.
And that's how the commuter airliner's direct-from-Chattanooga-to-Memphis service began.
Keith Sisson, the chief operating oficer of Southern Airways Express, was on that plane. He attended a company press conference in Knoxville on Thursday morning, then made the trip into Chattanooga before landing back at home in Memphis an hour-and-a-half later.
Two hours in the air, nearly 500 miles covered. Driving the state and hitting the same three cities would be a minimum six-and-a-half hour commitment.
"It's just a terrible drive between Chattanooga and Memphis," said Sisson. "Nobody likes dodging tractor-trailers on I-40."
The straight-out-0f-Chattanooga service is targeted at business commuters, said Sisson, because that's who the company's research pointed to as reliable clients.
But it's hard to tell right now how the Chattanooga clientele will actually shake out, said Sisson, as the service is in its infancy.
Sisson said economic growth in Chattanooga is one reason the new service makes sense. Employers sending folks across the state stand to gain productive time by flying rather than driving.
While the direct flights, at a minimum $198 one way, are more expensive than driving, "I think a lot of it has to do with 'How valuable is our time?'" Sisson said.
Also, Southern Airways is more like a private flying experience than a commericial one.
Passengers get free parking at what are often smaller, out-of-the-way gates or airports, like at the Wilson Air corporate terminal at the Chattanooga Airport.
TSA security is gone, one hour minimum check-in times are gone and baggage fees are gone.
Passengers are required to arrive at their gate about 20 minutes prior to flight departure. The gate-to-plane distance is rarely more than 30 or 40 feet.
For the $200 one-way ticket, you get "an executive flying experience," said Sisson.
"You don't have to take your shoes off. You can bring all the shampoo you want," he added.
Flights out of Chattanooga to Memphis are available on the Southern Airways Express website, www.iflysouthern.com.
Delta Airlines formerly offered direct flights between the two cities but cancelled the service about three years ago.
Southern Airways Express is looking to open a Chattanooga-to-Destin, Fla. direct service come spring. But in the meantime, Sisson said Chattanooga-to-Memphis sales are good, with a few nine-seater flights almost sold out.
And he thinks when flyers try Southern, they'll get a taste of the old, glamourous days of air travel.
Southern Airway's pilots wear the old white caps, have baby blue accents and in the spirit of their home city Memphis, wear blue suede shoes.
"We do want to bring it back to that," Sisson said.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at email@example.com or 423-757-6480.
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