Good in Small Doses: Silver Airways (Saab 340B) From Jacksonville to Tampa
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Silver Airways operates over 100 daily flights to several destinations in Florida, Alabama and the Bahamas, as well as a seasonal route from Boston Logan (BOS) to Bar Harbor, Maine (BHB). In fact, Silver operates more routes between Florida and the Bahamas, as well as more routes within Florida, than any other airline.
For now, all Silver flights are operated by the airline's Saab 340B aircraft, whether it's a domestic flight from Jacksonville (JAX) to Tampa (TPA) or an international flight from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Bimini (BIM). Indeed, the plane for my flight — N433XJ nicknamed "Momentum" — had visited the Bahamas the day before I flew on it from Jacksonville to Tampa. Here's my take on Silver Airways.
My husband (and TPG points and miles writer) JT Genter and I needed to travel from Jacksonville to Tampa with our cat, Grace. We usually use one-way rental cars to get between cities in the US when traveling with Grace, since pet fees on most US domestic flights run around $125 and we can often find excellent car-rental prices using AutoSlash.
This time, we decided to give Silver Airways a try between Jacksonville and Tampa instead of doing the three-and-a-half-hour drive. After all, we'd never flown Silver, and its pet-in-cabin fee was just $10 on domestic flights.
I booked our Silver flight just two weeks before departure, when the most basic Escape fare was $57 per person for the 67-minute flight. This fare came with a personal item and a carry-on.
One checked bag of 50 pounds or less could be added during booking for $25 or at check-in for $35. A second checked bag cost $35 during booking or $45 at check-in. Checked baggage fees were slightly more expensive for international flights.
A Fido Fare, a pet-in-cabin fee, could be added for $10, which was by far the lowest pet-in-cabin fee I'd seen. The fee jumped to a still-very-reasonable $15 for international flights.
The cost to reserve a seat ranged from zero dollars for two seats in the last row of the plane to $7.50 for a few extra-legroom seats. All of the other seats on the aircraft cost $2.50 to reserve.
Silver Airways maintains partnerships with both JetBlue and United, which means you could either credit the flight to TrueBlue or MileagePlus — we chose JetBlue. Although the points hadn't posted at the time of publishing, we should earn 250 TrueBlue points each, which TPG's latest valuations pegged at $3.25.
Silver Airways only accepted Visa or Mastercard, so I wasn't able to earn 5x Membership Rewards points by using the Platinum Card® from American Express. Instead, we paid with our Chase Sapphire Reserve for the card's trip protections in case our flight was significantly delayed or canceled.
Check-in and Airport
We arrived at the Jacksonville airport (JAX) about an hour before our scheduled flight. Silver Airways operated a single check-in counter past Frontier.
We checked the one bag we were sharing and noticed as we were walking to security that a much later departure time than expected was printed on our boarding passes. Although we'd checked FlightAware on the way to the airport, it was now showing that our flight was about two hours delayed because our aircraft had to divert to Orlando (MCO) for weather.
Since we had the flexibility to stay in Jacksonville one more night, we asked the check-in agent whether we could be moved to the next evening's flight. He said the change would cost $100, so we called Silver's customer-service line to see if they'd be willing to move us for less because of the delay. They went one further: The representative we got made the change free of charge. Silver didn't have to accommodate us, since the delay was caused by weather and the flight wasn't oversold, but we certainly appreciated their willingness to do so. The flight ended up arriving two and a half hours late.
When we checked in the next evening, our new reservation didn't show the checked bag we'd purchased during booking, so the agent initially tried to charge us $35 for it. Our seat reservations also didn't carry over, so the agent assigned us extra-legroom bulkhead seats 2D and 2F, but when we reminded him about our pet, he gave us the only other remaining seats, 3D and 4D.
Jacksonville doesn't have a Priority Pass lounge, nor does all-economy Silver Airways have a lounge, so we waited at the gate until boarding. Normally, Silver shares Gate A1 at Jacksonville with Frontier, but our flight departed out of Gate C5 because of flight delays.
Our flight was slightly delayed, departing at 8:06pm instead of 7:25pm. The Saab 340B only had 34 seats, boarding via a jetway and then stairs onto the apron was quick and easy.
The aircraft's small size meant large carry-ons and all roller bags were tagged before boarding and needed to be left on a baggage cart.
We got into our assigned seats, but the flight attendant said our cat couldn't be stored under the seat ahead of 3D because of an equipment box in the way. Although I could've just given Grace to JT in 4D, the man in 3F offered to move to 4D so JT and I could sit together with our cat stored under the seat in front of 3F.
Cabin and Seat
My first thought walking after boarding the aircraft, registration N433XJ, was that it was quite worn. My second thought? The plane was small. Indeed, this turboprop had just nine rows of 2-1 seating and one row at the very back with four seats. Small overhead bins that could hold my day pack were overhead on the two-seat side of the plane.
Despite the plane's worn feel, the leather seats were spacious and comfortable, with 18.5-inch width and 31-inch pitch.
Each seat had a large pocket.
The safety card was slightly worn.
Surprisingly, we found that both of our seats kept slowly reclining throughout the flight. At first, we assumed we were accidentally pushing the recline button, but it continued even once we made sure not to push the recline button with our legs.
The tray table and armrests were both awkwardly low. The 16.5-inch-by-11-inch tray table sat on my legs when extended, and the armrests were too low for most adults to rest their arms while seated.
Above each seat was a light, a call button and an air vent. The plane was warm throughout the flight because the air vents put out little cold air even when opened completely.
The seatbelt sign remained on throughout the short, somewhat choppy flight. Even so, a few passengers got up to use the lavatory at the front of the aircraft. Both passengers commented after exiting that the lavatory was very small. It also smelled awful (think porta potty), so the flight attendant placed coffee grounds inside to control the odor.
If you're trying to decide which seat to reserve, consider that 2A has limited legroom, while 2D and 2F have lots of legroom; and although 2A and 2F are exit-row seats, they have normal-sized windows.
There was no window at 3A or 3F, 3D had limited underseat storage space, and the "A" single-passenger-side seats generally had the most legroom.
The seats in Row 12, the last row, looked uncomfortable, and 12C was uniquely positioned in the last row with a view down the aisle — it looked very exposed.
Seats near the rear of the aircraft were quieter and had views that were less obstructed by the engine.
The Saab 340B can't fly above 25,000 feet, since the cabin is minimally pressurized, but the short flight times mean Silver flights usually top out at 10,000 to 15,000 feet. What this means for you is that if you get a window in the back of the aircraft on a daytime flight, you may be treated to excellent views.
Silver's Saab 340B had no amenities of note. Not surprisingly for an aircraft this small and a route this short, there was no Wi-Fi, snacks, power or amenity kits.
Although there was no true beverage service, the flight attendant did come around with a tray of 8-ounce water bottles shortly after takeoff. She returned later in the flight to collect trash.
Silver's customer service was easy to reach by phone, and we were more than pleased with how they handled our request.
The sole flight attendant on board said she usually does four to six segments each day she works. She was friendly and on top of things, double-checking that all baggage was stored properly and seats were upright for takeoff. Although the proper completion of these tasks should be a given, I've noticed they're sometimes overlooked.
Everyone we interacted with from Silver was pleasant. We often explain away our picture taking by saying we're AvGeeks and excited to fly an airline for the first time — both true in this case — but on this flight, our explanation led to both the flight attendant and pilots expressing their pride in flying the Saab 340B aircraft and working for Silver Airways.
Flying this small, regional airline was refreshing thanks to the friendly service and surprisingly comfortable seats — especially given the small size of the aircraft. For most of Silver's routes, the only other option would be a connecting flight on a larger carrier or a lengthy drive. Although the planes are small and have only economy seating, they provide a direct option that can be reasonably priced if you don't wait until the last minute to purchase your ticket. Plus, for those who travel with pets, the $10 pet-in-cabin fee for domestic flights is significantly less than you'll pay on any other airline.