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Published: Monday, 5/3/2004

Low-fare airlines help increase Toledo Express passenger traffic

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Robust business aboard the two low-fare airlines serving Toledo Express Airport underpinned a 13 percent increase in passenger traffic during the first three months of this year, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority officials said.

"We advertise Toledo Express as a cost-effective, comfortable, and convenient alternative to larger airports. That message is resonating with the public," airport director Paul Toth said.

Between January and March, 154,658 travelers got on or off planes at the airport, up from 136,322 during the same period in 2003.

A small part might be attributable to leap year, which added a day to February, but the increase would remain significant even if an average day's volume of 1,700 passengers were subtracted.

The biggest boosts have come from ATA Connection, whose traffic increased to 16,757 from 14,722 during the same months of 2003, and especially TransMeridian Airlines, a newcomer whose discount service to Orlando, Fla., and Las Vegas carried 16,509 passengers in January, February, and March.

A 3,990-passenger bump came from Continental Connection, which re-established Toledo feeder service to Continental Airlines' Cleveland hub last year.

On Feb. 28, Forbes.com, an online service of Forbes magazine, declared Toledo Express to be one of the top five small airports in the Midwest, thanks to its close parking, food and beverage service, and selection of direct and connecting flights.

But low fares have clearly done most of the selling, particularly when larger airlines lower their advance-purchase tickets to compete with the discounts on ATA Connection and TransMeridian.

The first-quarter total still falls short of the airport's recent peak years of 2001 and 2002, when AirTran Airways was offering discount flights between Toledo Express Airport and its Atlanta hub.

AirTran withdrew from Toledo in April, 2002, contending that a dearth of business travelers, who typically pay higher fares than vacationers, made the route unprofitable even though ticket sales were brisk.

ATA Connection began service to Chicago the following June and has since expanded its daily service from four round trips to six - albeit in 34-seat turbo-prop planes.

TransMeridian, which flies three weekly round trips on 172-seat Boeing 727s to Las Vegas and four or six days (depending on the season) per week to Orlando, came to Toledo last August.

The low-fare carriers "attract passengers from a wide area and get people to come to Toledo who might otherwise go to a larger airport," Mr. Toth said.

Airport officials are planning a $22 million renovation for the passenger terminal at Express.

Under the plan the security checkpoint would be relocated and expanded, waiting rooms improved for both passengers and people waiting for arrivals, and baggage handling reconfigured.

New equipment has been installed to handle inspections of about 65 percent of baggage loaded at Toledo Express.

Baggage passed through that equipment no longer is inspected in a public area of the terminal.

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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