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Published: Monday, 4/11/2005

New flights will open up possibilities at airport

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

For years, booking Toledo travelers on flights to many cities in northern Mexico or the southwestern United States has almost always meant sending them to Detroit's airport, because itineraries from Toledo Express Airport required two connections.

But when American Eagle Airlines launches daily flights between the local airport and Dallas-Fort Worth on June 9, that will no longer be the case, local travel agents say.

"It's going to be much easier to get to Central America - just to have some more options, so [clients] don't have to make that drive up to Detroit," said Sue McCloskey, vice president for travel agency and member services at AAA Northwest Ohio.

"It's an awesome addition and a great move by American Airlines," agreed Gina Garwood, owner of Atlas World Travel in Sylvania Township, who cited Palm Springs, Calif., Houston, and Gulf Coast cruise ports as places that will be easier to get to from Toledo Express.

Paul Toth, airport director for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said Dallas is the top market for Toledo air travelers, and about half use Detroit Metropolitan-Wayne County Airport to get there. Detroit has nonstop Dallas service on American and Northwest airlines.

"We've been working on this for five years, and told 'no' 200 times," Mr. Toth said. "I guess persistence finally paid off."

Dallas is the largest hub for American Airlines and has flights to many cities that aren't available from Chicago, to which the American Eagle feeder service already flies from Toledo. The availability of Dallas also will give travelers an alternative connecting point for major western cities, Mr. Toth said.

The single, midday departure won't be as big a draw for business travelers as morning and evening flights would be, but the airport director said he believes Toledo and several other cities that also will get new Dallas service in June are in the running for additional service.

"Three times a day - obviously, that is their goal," he said. "They want to get in and see which cities perform. Fort Wayne is up to three flights a day now [on American Eagle to Dallas], and they started with one."

Evansville, Ind., and Green Bay, Wis., will be starting up along with Toledo on June 9, as will summer-only service to Traverse City, Mich. Buffalo will get a second daily Dallas flight that day.

Michael Boyd, an aviation consultant in Evergreen, Colo., who has worked with the port authority on service development, said the Toledo-Dallas route allows American to route passengers away from Chicago and expands service between two auto-industry centers.

General Motors has a large plant in the Dallas suburb of Arlington, and numerous auto plants are in Mexican cities for which connections can be made in Dallas, he noted. Now salesmen and executives from Toledo-area automotive firms will have another way to go.

"I would be flabbergasted if this [route] is not a success from the second flight on," Mr. Boyd said, adding that additional flights are "not beyond reality."

Tami McLallen, an American Eagle spokesman, declined to predict future service expansion but said the airline would be "watching with interest" to see how well the route does and would be open to growth opportunities. "We think this is going to be a good market for us, or we wouldn't be getting into it," she said.

Toledo's top air travel destination is New York City, but the lack of nonstop service means 91 percent of the 95,000 annual local travelers headed to LaGuardia Airport fly out of Detroit instead of Toledo, Mr. Toth said.

Last year, Toledo applied unsuccessfully for a federal grant to subsidize the startup of a proposed Delta Air Lines route between Express and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. Port officials recently re-applied for that funding for the next fiscal year, Mr. Toth said.

JFK has good international connections, he said, and the construction of an on-airport transit connection to Manhattan has made it more useful for domestic travel than it used to be.

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



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