American Eagle is adding a second destination to its Gulfport schedule. Non-stop air service from the coast to Chicago begins in December.
Airport leaders say Monday's announcement will open up the midwest to south Mississippi like no other city can do. Gulfport to Chicago. It's about a two and a half hour flight that connects this community to the world.
Chicagoans love deep dish pizza and they play a lot of golf. In fact, historical data indicates Chicago is south Mississippi's top golf market without non-stop air service. However, American Eagle's Dale Morris says history is about to be rewritten.
"We're pleased to provide direct access to the beautiful city of Chicago," he told Harrison County leaders during a Monday morning news conference.
Starting December 13, American Eagle will offer a daily non-stop flight from Gulfport Biloxi International Airport to Chicago's O'Hare Airport. American Eagle CEO Peter Bowler thinks that starting the service in the winter works well, especially for Chicagoans, because he said it will give them "quick and easy access to a nice, warm destination like Gulfport-Biloxi, Mississippi."
Harrison County Tourism Commission director Steve Richer says the Chicago flights are just what the tourism industry needs.
"It changes the whole dynamics of the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a destination," he said.
Mississippi Senator Trent Lott worked with both parties to bring the non-stop service to Gulfport.
"Mississippi becomes even more accessible for recreational and business travelers," he said in a news release, "and American Airlines' investment in this region reflects their strong faith in Mississippi's recovery and the Gulf Coast's economic future."
Chicago is one of American's hub cities. So a non-stop flight from Chicago to Gulfport actually connects south Mississippi to more than 240 cities a day around the country, and around the world. Frank Genzer is on the Gulfport Biloxi International Airport Commissioner.
"The announcement we'll make, I think, will herald a new phase in not only the community, but in the Gulfport Biloxi International Airport," he said.
So why did American and its subsidiary American Eagle choose now to add Chicago to its Gulfport schedule?
"The community is really rebounding and doing well. And that's why we're excited about this market in particular," Morris said.
Not half as excited as airport leaders are. They've spent years trying to convince an airline like American Eagle that Gulfport to Chicago is a logical addition to its schedule.
"It's been a long time, but we knew the market was there," airport marketing director Jim Pitts told the American Eagle representative. "We appreciate your support."
The new service is on American Airlines website. If you leave Gulfport on the December 13th inaugural flight to Chicago and return two days later, the roundtrip ticket will cost you $266.80.