SPECIAL REPORT: What do you look for when choosing a flight in or out of the panhandle?

By  | 

NORTHWEST FLORIDA, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - With two airports in the center of the region, having your pick between convenience and price gives the consumer the power of choice.

Nearly four-million passengers are expected to fly through airports from Pensacola to Tallahassee this year.

"We have 6,000 people come and go from our facility every day. That doesn't include visitors. That's the available seats in and out of the airport," said Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP) Director Parker McClellan.

ECP in Panama City Beach has seen steady growth and so has Destin-fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS).

"We're pretty much in the center of the region. It's an incredible gateway to world class destinations," said VPS Airport Director, Tracy Stage.

Both airport directors said fliers are finding more options.

"We have three airlines that fly in and out of Panama City, out of ECP," said McClellan.

"Just roughly a year ago we only had three airlines with direct service to five cities and today we have six airlines. We've grown to one of the fastest growing airports in the state of Florida," Stage stated.

From fast security lines to easy check in, the consensus amongst passengers at both VPS and ECP airport is that they're looking for the most direct and easy flight.

"I try to look for all the different options I can to get the cheapest price and make sure I have the easiest trip," said one passenger we caught up with, Austin Alberto.

Although Alberto lives in Panama City Beach, he chose to fly out of VPS after finding a cheaper fare.

"I'm definitely gonna look at Panama City Beach, I'm gonna look at Fort Walton. See Which one is cheaper, see which one has the direct flight and shortest flight time," Alberto added.

But for some travelers like Casey Morrison, convenience is more important than price.

"I live in Panama City Beach and this is the closest airport from where I live," Morrison explained.

She said when it comes to options, ECP had plenty to offer even if she has to pay more.

"There was actually a decent amount of options. Even working with my work schedule, I still had a decent amount of options. But again the prices were a lot higher than I expected," said Morrison.

Airport directors explained price comes down to carriers.

"Obviously a low-fare carrier makes a difference in the region. For right now, Allegiant is the low-fare carrier coming out of Destin-Fort Walton. We understand that," said McClellan. "We continually... meet with airlines, both large and small, low-fare carriers to enhance the service to our community, but it all comes down to the demand."

And the greater the demand, the more options for the flier.

"I think all the airports in our region, we work very well together. Everybody does a job," said Stage, "we're all after the same price and that's to provide the best possible commercial air service, security, and safety. And I believe every one of us does an incredible job and we accentuate each other in our region. So what one airport does different from another, still the gain is for the region."

Both airport directors said cheap flights are the first ones to go, and a fuller flight is likely to be more expensive, no matter which airline or airport you choose.

They recommend booking early to find the best deals.