United Airlines adds service from Chicago to Sarasota
By JOSH SALMAN — firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted: 11:41pm on Feb 27, 2012; Modified: 12:12am on Feb 28, 2012
MANATEE United Airlines will add nonstop daily service from its hub in Chicago to Sarasota Bradenton International Airport starting in November, the company announced Monday.
With its once-daily service from O’Hare International Airport, United becomes the first carrier to expand into SRQ and the second to add new flights since Southwest Airlines announced in January it would be pulling subsidiary AirTran out of the market.
The United Airlines addition will single-handedly fill about one-third of the void left by AirTran, which now provides nonstop service to Chicago along with five other markets, according to SRQ President and CEO Rick Piccolo.
It also marks the return of Continental, which pulled out of SRQ three years ago and has since acquired the United brand.
“This only demonstrates what we have been saying all along,” Piccolo said. “We didn’t understand the Southwest decision because the market is strong. When Continental left in 2008, I had a hard time getting people to answer my call. That’s not the case now.”
The United service will operate using a Boeing 737-800 aircraft with 154 seats, including 16 in United First, 48 in Economy Plus and 90 in standard economy.
The round-trip flight will begin Nov. 4, departing from O’Hare at 8:45 a.m. and arriving in Sarasota at 12:30 p.m., then departing SRQ at 1:20 p.m. and arriving back in Chicago at 3:10 p.m.
During peak tourism season, the airline has discussed potentially adding a second daily flight, Piccolo said.
United will receive $200,000 in marketing assistance from
SRQ during the first year of service plus a $7 per boarding passenger fee waiver. The carrier also will qualify for $100,000 in marketing funds during year two.
“This new route complements United’s existing service between Chicago and eight other cities in Florida,” Martin Kammerman, the airlines’s senior manager of new markets and analysis, said in a statement. “In addition to providing Midwest travelers with easy access to Florida’s Southwest Gulf Coast, this new service will give travelers from the Sarasota-Bradenton area convenient connections to United’s global network from our Chicago hub.”
United becomes the first airline to move into SRQ as a direct result of a decision by Southwest to cease all local operations by Aug. 12.
AirTran, now owned by Southwest, accounted for 32 percent of the airport’s total passengers last year the second largest carrier at SRQ.
Airport officials met with senior executives from Southwest Airlines on Friday in Dallas to further discuss the company’s departure from Sarasota.
While the meeting ended with no change in decision, Southwest provided a more detailed explanation for the move and refunded $125,000 in marketing assistance that SRQ issued the carrier in December.
Airport officials have been scrambling for the past month to fill the void that will be left by AirTran. Those efforts already have resulted in new nonstop daily JetBlue flights to New York’s LaGuardia Airport commencing June 11.
AirTran’s route to Chicago’s Midway Airport brought about 120,000 passengers through the SRQ terminal last year. Airport officials are expecting even better results from the United service due to the airline’s heavy presence at O’Hare a larger international hub than Midway.
United flies more than 600 nonstop flights each day from Chicago to more than 150 destinations worldwide, the company said.
United will join existing carriers JetBlue, US Air, Air Canada and Delta at SRQ. With a $22 million annual budget, the airport served a total of 1.3 million passengers in 2011 relatively flat from 2010 and 2009, records show.
The Airport Authority also voted in January to up its incentives as a draw for new or expanding airlines to help fill the $1.2 million hole dug by AirTran.
“This is a better connection,” SRQ Board Chairman Carlos Beruff said. “We knew there was an immediate market for that leg, and obviously, United felt the same about it.”
Josh Salman, Herald business writer
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