Surf Air drops plans for service to Sonoma County

The members-only airline is bypassing its plans to land at Sonoma County airport, making Napa its new North Bay destination instead.|

A new type of airline that is launching service into Wine Country has nixed plans to fly into Sonoma County, saying its passengers want to go to Napa County instead.

Surf Air, a members-only airline that caters to wealthy frequent fliers, has dropped plans announced in April for service to the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport. Instead, it will make Napa the new North Bay destination for its eight-seat aircraft.

The change came about after feedback from both existing and potential members, said Jeff Potter, president and CEO of the Santa Monica company. He said leisure travelers, Wine County homeowners and wine industry professionals all suggested, “Why don’t you take us directly to Napa?”

The 2-year-old Surf Air operates about 48 flights daily to seven cities, including Carlsbad north of San Diego, Burbank, Santa Barbara, Oakland and Truckee. The company plans in the coming months to expand to Sacramento, Monterey and Palm Springs.

Its 1,500 members often identify themselves as entrepreneurs and business executives with an average income of between $200,000 and $400,000 a year, the company has said. Members pay a $1,000 initiation fee and then can book an unlimited number of flights on the company’s eight-seat aircraft for a monthly fee of $1,850.

The company last month planned to offer daily service from Santa Rosa to two locations: Los Angeles County and San Carlos in the South Bay.

Instead, Surf Air will offer Thursday through Sunday service from the Napa County Airport to Hawthorne near Los Angeles International Airport and weekend service from Napa to Santa Barbara. As such, Potter said, the flights likely will cater more to leisure rather than business travelers.

Potter said he understands that some in Sonoma County will be disappointed, but the company needed to make a decision for business reasons. Moreover, Surf Air still may consider service one day to Sonoma County.

“We don’t think it makes sense now, but it doesn’t preclude us from doing it in the future,” Potter said.

Surf Air will provide the first commercial air service to Napa since at least the 1980s, said Martin Pehl, the airport’s manager.

“We’re looking forward to it and think it will provide another level of service to serve our local community,” said Pehl.

Ben Stone, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, said despite the change, Sonoma County will continue to be “well served” by commercial carrier Alaska Airlines. Alaska offers daily flights from Santa Rosa to Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and San Diego.

“You’d always like to have more, but we do have quite a bit,” said Stone, “and Napa will get its first service.”

You can reach Staff ?Writer Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or robert.digi? On Twitter @rdigit

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