How a Small Airline Hacked Together Its Own Fleet of Dodge Neon Airport Baggage Tractors
Sawzall problems require sawzall solutions.
For many people, flying is either a chore or a vacation. You pack your bags, get on the plane, and continue onto your destination. For airport employees behind the scenes, however, things have to move like clockwork to make sure itineraries aren't disrupted, and that includes transporting luggage to and from the plane. And as we recently found out, these suitcase-toting vehicles can really vary from airport to airport.
There's one small airport in Canada that goes against the norm—typically a purpose-built tractor or toter of some sort—by using chopped-up old Dodge Neons for the job instead. Yes, roofless Dodge Neons.
These particular Neons were spotted back in 2015 at Thunder Bay International Airport in Ontario, Canada and were exclusively used by Bearskin Airlines, a regional passenger airline that used Thunder Bay as its main hub.
According to Dave, the Twitter user who originally posted a photo of one of the Neons in action, Bearskin is the only airline that uses the Neons in this capacity. The other airlines at Thunder Bay reportedly used traditional baggage carts. Call it ingenuity, but Bearskin decided that the best use of its money wasn't to buy fancy proprietary hardware, but instead to buy three Dodge Neons, slice them up, and put them to work.
A former employee of Bearskin named Ethan Hodgson told us that despite it being odd in nature, these Neons were actually used at other hubs for Bearskin planes as well, Sioux Lookout in Ontario being another prime example. He also noted that the airline had been using these since the early 2000s and they frequently had transmission problems. When one would finally give out, mechanics would source another transmission, plop it in the engine bay, and send the tiny terrors back out to the tarmac.
So just why did Bearskin use these Neons instead of proper tugs? We're thinking that this has something to do with the size of Bearskin's average flights. The regional airliner uses one model of aircraft exclusively: the Fairchild Metroliner. This means that, at most, a single flight can have a maximum possible load of just 19 passengers. Why spend $30,000 on a tug when a cheap '90s Dodge Neon will do the job for the cost of a sawzall and a few blades?
"They were a lot of fun!" Hodgson told The Drive. "I went way too fast one time and span out on a patch of ice, there I was on the apron spinning in circles with nothing to hold onto but the steering wheel. I think they implemented seatbelts not long after that."
Sadly, though the Neons could tow up to two baggage carts, they weren't up to the job when it came to taxing the Metroliners to the runway. Instead, Bearskin reportedly used a few '90s GMC Sierras to get the job done, which was a significantly cheaper alternative.
But despite its oddly strong flex, it seems like Bearskin might be a little bit self-conscious of its love for Neons. A promotional video about cargo loading on its website features a tractor hauling a skid of Coca-Cola rather than these chopped-up econoboxes, which is upsetting because (if we're being honest) we'd rather have the latter.
Or, maybe it's because you simply won't find these Neons on the taxiway anymore. Hodgson said that many, if not all, of the locations where Bearskin operates, have since retired the Neons and have invested in more proper equipment.
Maybe someone will stumble upon one somewhere in a Canadian junkyard one day, and when they wonder what it was used for in its past life, they can learn the glorious story of Bearskin's Dodge Neons.
We reached out to Bearskin Airlines to find out more about its trusty Neons, and we will update this story when we hear back.
Got a tip? Send us a note: firstname.lastname@example.org