Season Brings Thrice Daily Service to Chicago



Could new flights between Chicago and Sarasota during season increase the importance of the Midwestern metropolis for this region? American Airlines on Monday announced it would offer seasonal daily service between Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport and Chicago O’Hare International Airport beginning on Dec. 19. Additionally, United Airlines, which offers daily service to O’Hare year-round, will run flights twice daily between the Chicago airport and SRQ airport.

That means that, at least during season, the Sarasota airport will have three flights a day connecting the Gulf Coast to the Windy City. It’s the first time there’s been that type of connection between the destinations since Southwest Airlines abruptly ended all AirTran service at SRQ airport in 2012. Before that point, AirTran did three daily trips between SRQ airport and Chicago Midway International Airport, according to SRQ airport President Rick Piccolo, and had 120,000 passengers on that flight for whom Sarasota or Chicago served as the origin or destination. “It’s a huge market for us,” Piccolo says.

When the now-defunct AirTran left SRQ airport behind, it briefly looked like there would be no direct flights between Sarasota and Chicago but United in 2012 quickly announced seasonal flights to O’Hare. The flights proved successful and United expanded to year-round service, and now offers twice daily service during the winter season. Once American starts its flights, it will mean a connectivity between the cities matching the AirTran days—at least for a portion of the year.

Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, says the tourism bureau will increase its marketing in Chicago, based on the news of the additional flights. Chicago today remains the sixth largest original destination for visitors to Sarasota County. “Interestingly, if you look at the 2016-17 period, it grew by 2 percent,” Haley said of the Chicago market. And since many travelers to Sarasota have loyalty to certain airlines, she’s excited to see both United and American connecting the two cities.

Piccolo and Haley say the Midwest has always proved important to tourism to this region. In recent years, Haley says, some Atlantic coast markets have grown in significance while the Midwest’s economic conditions led to a certain decrease in traffic from visitors there. “But Chicago itself has always remained very strong,” she says.

American service to O’Hare begins Dec. 19. Flights will be on an E75 Embraer RJ-175 with a first-class cabin and two-and-two coach seating. Tickets are available for purchase now.

Photo courtesy Chicago O'Hare International Airport

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