Anything is better than driving?
June 6, 2009 9:00 AM   Subscribe

I've heard that there are twice-daily commuter flights to/from Charlottesville, VA and DC. I can't find any online... everything seems to be typical big-airliner, normal-expensive flights. Am I looking in the wrong place, and what's the best option for traveling between those two places minus a car?

More specifically... I'm not actually commuting but rather visiting Charlottesville when I'm not working in DC. And it would be nice if it were fast, cheap, and convenient, but I'd understand if it's just two out of the three.
posted by tmcw to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
From the Charlottesville airport website:

United Express

Offering daily nonstop flights to Washington Dulles and points beyond.
Local counter hours:
6:00AM to 7:00PM DAILY
For information and reservations, call: 1-800-241-6522
posted by dilettante at 9:08 AM on June 6, 2009


I used to take the train sometimes. Have you tried amtrak? Not fast but reasonably scenic.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:14 AM on June 6, 2009


However, on doublechecking United Express, that does look pretty pricey.

Amtrak is around $45 one way, but is unlikely to be fast, regardless of what the schedule says. Maybe someone else on here has actually done thisto know how likely you are to have to stop while freight goes through that area.
posted by dilettante at 9:16 AM on June 6, 2009


Funny, I just wrote this up yesterday for an event we are hosting in Charlottesville later this year. Your options are:

Flying

US Airways Express, United Express and Delta Connection serve the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Airport (CHO)

Train
Trains leave to Charlottesville from Union Station in downtown Washington, D.C. at 11:10am and 6:30pm daily. Tickets cost around $30-45 each. Amtrak’s Cardinal and Crescent lines also connect from the Manassas train station to Charlottesville (9431 West Street in Manassas, Virginia). Trains leave the Manassas station once daily at 7:22pm. On Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays another train connects through Manassas at 12:02pm. The ticket cost is around $20-40.

Bus
Use the Greyhound Bus station located at 1005 1st Street, NE in downtown Washington, D.C. Buses leave to Charlottesville at 2:15am, 10:00am, 5:05pm, and 5:30pm. Prices range from $12 to $30. Buses arrive at the Greyhound station in downtown Charlottesville (310 West Main Street).
posted by gemmy at 9:25 AM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


United is indeed your only option for flying CHO-IAD (and IAD is your only option too). Nothing that flies in or out of CHO is "big-airliner" in the classic sense of the word, it's all turboprops.

The train is not a bad choice, and puts you directly in the center of town, unlike the airport which puts you about 10 miles away. I've only taken it once (actually past DC, but it went through), and it was 4 hours late due to a massive delay that had happened 12 hours earlier on the line somewhere in Alabama. Then again on the return trip it was perfectly on schedule at both ends. So if your concern with speed is reliability, not the best choice, but if you just don't want to spend that long on the train, it's faster than driving.
Also, my roommate has flown the United CHO-IAD flight several times and it's been canceled or delayed pretty often too, so it's hard to say which reliability is worse. One benefit the train has in this situation (which I wish I had known) is that if it's running behind schedule you can find that out long before it's due to leave town, so you don't have to spend your delay-time at the train station, you can just call and then show up when it's time to go.

There's always Greyhound, which is by far the slowest (it can approach something like 4 hours one-way), but it's also the cheapest and pretty reliable. Plus it drops off next-door to the train station, right downtown.
posted by Partial Law at 9:34 AM on June 6, 2009


Honestly, I would just rent a car, unless for whatever reason you're unable to or forbidden from driving.

If for no other reason than that once you get to Charlottesville you'll be limited to UVa, the Corner, and maybe the downtown mall unless you hire a cab or rely on what used to be* awfully limited bus service on weekends. Having a car means you can (without hassle) have dinner at the Boar's Head or come back on Skyline Drive to Front Royal or go to Monticello.

*I haven't taken Charlottesville buses since 1992. Service was really limited at the best of times, and down to once an hour on weekends.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:44 AM on June 6, 2009


I would rent a car too if at all possible. I lived in Charlottesville for a year, and didn't actually leave it pretty much because I didn't have a car. The trains are *very* sporadic, the bus to DC (and back obviously) takes forever, and again are very few and far between. The flight is fine (take off, then land pretty much!) but it is expensive, and then you have a cab ride from the airport because there are no buses from there to the town.
posted by nunoidia at 10:55 AM on June 6, 2009


This is more of a general statement of fact, but it is germane to the original question. You should know that "commuter" or regional airline flights are almost never less expensive than mainline (i.e. "big airliner") flights. Never assume that a short-hop flight will be cheap.

In a market like CHO-IAD, United has a monopoly on air service and will price accordingly. The unit cost to operate a small turboprop or jet is also higher for the airline, but the main factor is supply and demand, where one or two airlines control the entire limited supply of available seats.
posted by gazole at 2:02 PM on June 6, 2009


I grew up in C'ville. My suggestion is to rent a car for the drive. It's the fastest way, you don't have to deal with IAD, and it's more affordable than using the commuter flights. If money's not an option, take the United Express commuter flights, but it seems like an expensive way to get out of DC for the weekend.

Totally off subject: Please have a bagel sandwich and some potato salad at Bodo's for me. Man, I miss Bodo's.
posted by dchrssyr at 2:18 PM on June 6, 2009


Took the train once. Worked fine.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:30 PM on June 6, 2009


Train
Trains leave to Charlottesville from Union Station in downtown Washington, D.C. at 11:10am and 6:30pm daily. Tickets cost around $30-45 each. Amtrak’s Cardinal and Crescent lines also connect from the Manassas train station to Charlottesville (9431 West Street in Manassas, Virginia). Trains leave the Manassas station once daily at 7:22pm. On Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays another train connects through Manassas at 12:02pm. The ticket cost is around $20-40.


In addition to the two trains above, a Washington-to-Lynchburg service will start in September. The inbound train will depart Charlottesville at around 8:40 am and arrive in DC at 11:20 am, and the outbound one will depart DC at 4:50 PM and arrive in Charlottesville at around 7:30 pm. I'm not sure if the Charlottesville-bound train starts in DC, but if it does it should run more-or-less on time, as should the DC-bound train.

Since tickets can start as low as $22 on Amtrak, I think your best option is to use the train (especially if you're relatively time-insensitive). You'll leave from downtown DC and arrive in the middle of Charlottesville and relaxed, as opposed to leaving from Dulles and arriving ten miles away from downtown and carless.
posted by armage at 2:09 AM on June 7, 2009


I just checked, and a flight will run you $350 RT. The train is, even at the most expensive fare, the better option. (A car is better still, as others have noted, but Charlottesville is compact and has quite good public transit for its size.

Incidentally, the CHO-IAD flight is a Saab 340 operated by Colgan Air, the same airline cited for problems by an FAA inspector before the crash in Buffalo a few months ago.
posted by armage at 2:19 AM on June 7, 2009


Generally mainline carriers (United) sets the actual fare prices for United Express (regional commuter.) It's part of their lift agreement. The flight might be operated by Colgan, Republic, Shuttle America, etc - but it's still ticketed by and priced by the mainline carrier.
posted by Thistledown at 8:55 AM on June 8, 2009


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