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Published: Wednesday, 7/9/2003

Toledo Express getting flights to Orlando, Las Vegas

Toledo-area gamblers and snowbirds soon will have a new travel option with the arrival of an airline at Toledo Express Airport that offers non-stop service to Orlando and Las Vegas.

Five years after Toledo Express lost flights to both cities, TransMeridian Airlines confirmed yesterday that it would be flying two routes a week to and from Las Vegas, The announcement came a day after the discount airline confirmed it would fly six days a week to and from Orlando.

“Toledo, you're finally getting what you deserve,” airline President Robert Binns told reporters yesterday.

The Las Vegas route will be the first time Toledo travelers can reach the gambling mecca on set days of the week, year-round. Charter operators have previously flown to Las Vegas, but the most prolific one, Key Tours, flew twice a week in the winter and early spring. It shut down the route in early 1998.

The new Las Vegas route will also offer some unique timeframes. The most traditional arrangement, on Fridays, will include an afternoon flight from Las Vegas to Toledo - returning area gamblers in time for the weekend. The plane will turn around and fly back to Las Vegas that night - allowing area gamblers time to get off work Friday and make the trip.

For the mid-week gamblers, TransMeridian will offer a late-night flight to Las Vegas on Monday, and a red-eye return flight early Tuesday. The latter will allow for a three-day weekend in Las Vegas, provided the traveler is fresh enough from a red-eye flight to arrive to work on Tuesday.

All of the flights to Orlando leave in the morning and arrive in Toledo at night, every day but Tuesday. They all offer meals.

The airline will offer introductory base fares through September as low as $59 one-way to Orlando and $79 to Las Vegas. In October, the prices rise to at least $79 to Orlando and at least $89 to Las Vegas.

Administrators at the airport and its overseer, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said TransMeridian's arrival is another step in the evolution of Toledo Express into a less expensive, more pleasant, and more convenient airport.

In the last few years, the airport has added a new food court, new gift shop, new cab service, and new parking facilities to woo Toledo-area travelers used to flying out of Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.

The new routes somewhat mimic what the airport offered in the mid-to-late-1990s. AirTran offered low-fare, once-a-day flights to Orlando from 1996 to 1998, but the company left after it merged with ValuJet and changed its business strategy. Key Tours, with its Las Vegas charter flights, left about the same time.

In the meantime, TransMeridian built its Atlanta-based business since 1995 as an air charter company using big jets, Boeing 727s and 757s. This year TransMeridian decided to use those planes for scheduled passenger service.

Last month, port authority and Toledo Area Chamber of Commerce officials joined Mayor Jack Ford to personally lobby the airline to begin flying to and from Toledo.

Less than two weeks ago, TransMeridian began its first two routes - Syracuse and San Juan, Puerto Rico - both based out of Orlando Sanford International Airport, metro Orlando's much smaller of two passenger airports. Now the carrier will add Toledo and Rockford, Ill., to its mini-hub in Orlando.

Mr. Binns said his company's strategy is part of the latest evolution of the airline industry. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, more travelers want to fly out of cheaper, smaller, more convenient airports near major metro areas. Toledo Express is less than an hour from Detroit Metro, providing a chance it can not only grab local travelers heading to Detroit, but Detroit-area travelers willing to make the extra drive.



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