SRQ - After months of promoting it, Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport finally welcomed the first direct flight from Chicago earlier this morning.
United Airlines is now providing daily, non-stop flights between Sarasota and Chicago, and local officials say not only does this mean convenience for area travelers, but an economic boost for everyone.
One United flight was full when it arrived around 12:30 this afternoon, and when it took off two hours later to return to Chicago, it was a full flight then as well. Airport officials are hoping that's how it goes every single day.
The success of this route is expected to bring millions of dollars to the area, and could lead to even more flights in the future.
Even at ten minutes behind schedule, the feeling at SRQ was still better late than never. That's because the last United flight to pull up at the gate was back in 1994, seventeen years ago. "This one flight alone has an economic impact of about 61 million dollars on an annual basis," says Rick Piccolo, Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
Piccolo says depending on the success of United's Sarasota-Chicago routing, we could see more united flights in the future. "We want this first flight to do very well, we already talked to them about other destinations including places like Newark and Cleveland and Houston, where they have hubs, and we're hopeful we can bring back more of those services as they grow here in the community."
Numbers show the average tourist spends about $1,800 each time they visit the area. With seventy percent of air traffic inbound, that amount of money could help send local business revenue sky high. “Anytime we get a new service like this it’s a boost, because its bringing more people to the area and that means more people are staying in our hotels, more people are eating in our restaurants, enjoying our attractions, so everybody's going to benefit from this service," says Tara Poulton of the Bradenton Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Keep in mind Chicago is United's biggest hub, meaning Sarasota is now just one stop away from more than 50 destinations. "It’s a huge boost to the Bradenton area, the Chicago market is a huge market for us so we're very excited for people who live in Chicago to come to the area to enjoy the destination," says Poulton.
United will be flying Boeing 737 aircraft in and out of SRQ, which seat around 150 passengers depending on the configuration.