Yeager officials maintained relationship with AirTran

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Apr. 23--CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Yeager Airport worked for almost a decade to build a relationship with the airline that just announced a new direct flight to Orlando, the airport director told his board of directors.

AirTran Airways unveiled on April 13 a flight between Charleston and Orlando. Airport Director Rick Atkinson said Wednesday AirTran had talked about coming to Yeager previously, because it wanted to concentrate on smaller markets.

However, after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the airline backed off that plan and simply tried to survive, Atkinson said.

Yeager officials maintained a relationship with AirTran officials and spoke at conferences or gatherings where both were present. After several years AirTran decided to look at smaller markets again, and Yeager was on top of the list.

"We're part of the AirTran family," Atkinson told board members.

"The opportunity we have is to really make a major change in air service in West Virginia, because of AirTran," Atkinson said. "We'll do everything we can to make AirTran successful here."

The flight to Orlando is the second new flight Yeager has snared recently. A direct flight to New York City on American Eagle Airlines started April 7 and has been receiving steady bookings, board member Priscilla Haden said.

Board chairman Ed Hill said getting the new flights is "phenomenal" considering the current economy. However, Hill said now that the flights are here, people need to take advantage of them.

"The key to keeping them is to use them," Hill said. "The more we use it, the more we get it."

Haden said the airport is obligated to spend $50,000 on publicity for the Orlando flight, which begins June 25.

The money for that campaign already has been built into the airport's budget, and Haden said a kickoff event, such as the Clay Center gala that celebrated the New York flight, is a possibility.

"(The flight) is a real big plus for us -- we're really on a roll," Haden said.

Haden also pointed out that the new Orlando flight from Yeager saves several hours of roundtrip travel time for Kanawha Valley residents who might have previously flown to Florida from Tri-State Airport in Wayne County.

Allegiant Air flies from Tri-State to Orlando-Sanford International Airport. AirTran will fly from Charleston into Orlando International Airport, which is an hour closer to Orlando.

AirTran currently provides service to 63 airports around the country.

Orlando will become the ninth city to which passengers can fly directly from Yeager. The others are Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Houston, New York and Washington.

Contact writer Cara Bailey at cara.bailey@dailymail.com or 304-348-4834.

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