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Low airfares keep family aloft
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Low airfares keep family aloft

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GREENSBORO — To most folks, the Airbus A319 with the butterfly on the tail is just another jet plane.

To Ken Calhoun, a professor at Elon University, it’s a way to balance family and career.

Cheaply.

Calhoun snapped up — or rather, clicked on — 14 $10 flights in and out of Greensboro’s Piedmont Triad International Airport when discount airline Skybus put the tickets on sale at its Web site last week.

The cheap flights will help Calhoun, his wife and daughter build a 750-mile bridge in their long-distance relationship.

“We were wondering how we were going to afford this much travel,” Calhoun said. “It’s been a Godsend, really.”

Calhoun is the kind of customer Skybus and PTI are looking for: Someone who needs to fly often but cannot spend a fortune on tickets.

Skybus, a discount airline based in Columbus, Ohio, announced plans last week to open a second hub at PTI starting in January.

“We don’t have goals set strictly on business travelers or families or any one particular group,” said Ted Johnson, PTI’s executive director. “Anyone who can get a decent rate flying out of PTI, that’s who we’re looking for.”

To collect on a nearly $57 million incentives package, Skybus must attract at least 500,000 new passengers per year. About 1.1 million people flew out of PTI last year.

That’s where bargain hunters like Calhoun come in.

Skybus plans to offer 11 daily, nonstop flights from PTI by the end of February. The first 10 seats on each flight go for $10 and then rise from there.

Calhoun is in his first semester teaching in Elon’s school of communications after working for years at a Raleigh-based media company. He lives in Durham with his 12-year-old daughter, Sophie.

His wife, Anya Belkina, left Duke University after seven years and is in her first semester teaching 3-D animation classes at Emerson College in Boston, Mass.

The career opportunities were too good to pass up, Calhoun said, but they created a new set of challenges for the family.

“It was a very difficult decision for us to make,” Belkina said. “Trying to find an academic situation for both parents is tough enough, and then to find jobs so far apart ... what Skybus is doing is further liberating us in choosing our careers and the future for our child.

“Our daughter can grow up in this era of transition. She can have a lot of fun and a lot of adventures because she can grow up in two places.”

The family uses online tools to communicate several times a day.

They even have family meals together, Belkina said, by sitting down to eat with Internet-connected laptop computers at the table.

“But there’s no substitute for the real thing,” Calhoun said. “For us, the cheap tickets answered a need that we had to bring our family together every two weeks. That was our goal when we took the jobs. That was the rhythm we wanted to establish. These flights are allowing us to maintain that rhythm.”

Calhoun says picking the plane with the butterfly on the tail was an easy choice — so easy he booked more tickets later in the week, even though all the $10 seats were sold out.

“It was still cheaper than other airlines,” he said. “I’m almost reluctant to spread the word about this. It’s such a good deal, I don’t want to share.”

Contact Jeff Mills at 373-7089 or jmills@news-record.com

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