A number of people have taken advantage of the now-daily flights to Chicago from the Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport since the service started June 2.
Three weeks later, the number of boardings isn’t quite as high as airport director Tom Heanue would like them to be.
“Leading up to it, we had a lot of excitement with everybody, but it hasn’t translated into anybody flying yet,” he said. “Numbers have been really slow.”
Heanue said there’s been on average eight to nine customers flying to Chicago each day.
Even though the numbers are lower than he had hoped for, Heanue said it was something he anticipated.
“Being optimistic, it did that when we changed to Dallas, too,” he said. “It was slow.
“It’s been slow, but it will pick up.”
Elijah Jones of Hattiesburg recently took the flight on a return trip to Los Angeles.
“It was very convenient,” he said. “It was a very pleasant experience.”
He said the flight is much more convenient than leaving from Jackson or New Orleans, which are both about 100 miles from Hattiesburg.
“It takes 10 minutes to get to the airport,” he said.
Jones said his trip to Los Angeles lasted 18 days, so the Pine Belt airport’s free parking was a plus.
“You have to factor that into what you are paying for your ticket,” he said. “I think it’s very competitive (pricing).”
Allison Neville of Hattiesburg flies with a friend to Chicago every other year. She is a Green Bay Packers fan, while her friend is a Bears fan, so they see a football game at Soldier Field one year and Lambeau Field the next.
“I think it’s a wonderful option,” she said. “It’s really convenient for somebody that goes pretty often.”
The airport previously offered two flights a day to Dallas, which it shares with Meridian. Now the airport offers one flight to Dallas and one to Chicago.
The Chicago flight also stops briefly in Meridian to allow passengers to deplane or board.
Jones said he enjoyed the flight, but wished it was nonstop as opposed to going through Meridian.
Because of issues with the carrier, parent company American Airlines decided to take it over and the airport had to make the change, but it is a positive one, Heanue said.
“Although we are losing our frequency to DFW, picking up another option for our travelers is helpful for those wanting to travel to the Midwest or eastern destinations,” he said in an earlier story.
Some flyers who had gotten used to the convenience of the noon flight to Dallas aren’t happy with the change, but Heanue said that will pass in time.
Having dual-hub service is rare for airports as small as the Pine Belt’s, so the benefits eventually will outweigh the inconveniences.
“As with anything that’s new and different, there has been growing pains,” Heanue said.
“I think it’s a great improvement,” Jones said. “I think I will do it again. I will try it again in the future. I will recommend it.”
One of the reasons the Chicago flights are getting off to a slow start is the weather, Heanue said, both locally and at the two destinations.
For example, when the flight from Dallas is late arriving, the Chicago flight is delayed and the return flights are then delayed, so it sets off a domino effect.
Heanue said the airport is partnering with the Meridian airport to apply for a service grant from the Mississippi Development Authority that would help them bolster awareness of the Chicago flights.
He said Gulfport airport saw success with the grant, which gave them around $150,000 for advertising a new service.
Heanue said he is hoping an advertising campaign will do the same for the Hattiesburg-Laurel airport.
“We’re trying to get some good saturation,” he said.
Heanue said the summer travel season and the upcoming holiday season should help improve boardings to Chicago.
“I think it will work if we give it a little time,” he said.
The Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport operates with support from both Forrest and Jones counties.
The Forrest County Board of Supervisors is pleased with the added destination, and hopes to see more boardings to Chicago in the near future, board president David Hogan said.
“We’re definitely happy that the carrier chose to have two flights out of Hattiesburg,” he said. “With a flight to Dallas and a flight to Chicago, you can easily get to anywhere in the country, or anywhere in the world for that matter, right here out of the Hattiesburg-Laurel airport.
“We’re excited about that.”
If you go
To book flights, visit aa.com. Daily flights are as follows:
Hattiesburg-Meridian-Dallas departs at 8:50 a.m., arriving in Dallas at 11:40 a.m.
Hattiesburg-Meridian-Chicago departs at 2:35 p.m., arriving in Chicago at 5:45 p.m.
Dallas-Hattiesburg-Meridian departs at 12:40 p.m., arriving in Hattiesburg at 2:10 p.m.
Chicago-Meridian-Hattiesburg departs 6:20 p.m., arriving in Hattiesburg at 9:30 p.m.
For more information about the airport, visit flypib.com.