Final flight: 'For my family, it's the end of an era' (video)

Camille Doty

June 30, 2012 at 1:30 a.m.

Arlene Peterson celebrated her birthday, rode horses, and visited animal shelters with her niece, who lives in Tennessee.

Random Cooke, 11, traded in city life in Nashville, Tenn., to visit her aunt on a ranch in Goliad.

This week was their girl time.

Their 10-year tradition was cut short this time because Random had to fly out of Victoria on Saturday.

Before she went through airport security she pulled out her cellphone to snap one more photo.

The picture holds special meaning for the pair because it's uncertain when they will see each other again.

Random embarked on a historic journey to Houston as one of the nine passengers to travel on Victoria's final United Express flight, operated by Colgan Air.

Peterson has flown in relatives to see her because she's been grounded because of a back injury. It's been convenient for her to bring them to Crossroads.

The change in service providers leaves future flights to and from Victoria up in the air.

The dark clouds in the sky matched Peterson's mood as she saw the Saab 340 take its last departure at 10 a.m.

"For my family it's the end of an era," Peterson said.

Employees came from the other side of the counter to embrace her.

The staff was directed by management not to speak to the media.

Peterson said she was concerned about the staff as well as for older passengers.

"Everyone can't drive 21/2 hours to get to Houston," she said.

Peterson also said the flights have become prohibitively expensive in the last couple of years.

It used to cost her $236 to get a ticket for Random to visit, and the fare has more than doubled.

However, making more memories with her niece is priceless.

The decision for the air carrier to leave Victoria came as a shock to Peterson.

Colgan Air decided to leave the regional airport after its parent company, Pinnacle Airlines Inc., filed for bankruptcy in April.

Joe Williams, manager of corporate communications, said removing service was a necessary step in the company's Chapter 11 reorganization.

Victoria had four part-time and three full-time positions, which are now eliminated.

"We are proud of the dedicated employees who served our customers in Victoria," Williams said.

He encouraged the recently displaced employees to apply to other positions in the company that matches their qualifications.

Airport Manager Jason Milewski agreed with Williams' sentiments about the employees.

Milewski, who has held the managerial position since 2009, commended the staff for their dedication.

"Despite the ups and downs we had, we were always complimented because of the staff," he said.

Jimmie Harvey has watched the airport change hands and expand as both an employee and passenger.

She works as a member of the Continental flight crew and has been an attendant for 26 years.

The 57-year-old Victoria native now lives in Central Florida and frequents the airport to visit family.

She said the level of personal service comes second to none. The staff knew her by her first name and always inquired about her family.

"They take good care of me here," she said.

Even when travel situations weren't ideal for Peterson, she said the staff delivered.

One time the plane didn't arrive in Victoria, and the passengers were taken to Houston in a limousine.

This devoted customer has seen employees become parents and even in the wake of the 9/11, the personnel has made her feel safe.

The bond between Peterson and the staff runs 12 years deep.

And although Peterson is uncertain about the changes, she hasn't closed the door completely to the scheduled new carrier - Sun Air International.

Peterson said she hopes the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based company will offer more convenient flight times.

"Hopefully it's a different chapter in what's still a good book," she said.



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