Apr. 9--It took nearly a decade, but the Lehigh Valley finally bagged AirTran Airways.
AirTran, a discount carrier based in Orlando, Fla., will begin nonstop flights between Lehigh Valley International Airport and both Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. starting June 25.
AirTran is the eighth airline to set up shop at LVIA and will give the airport nonstop service to 13 cities.
"We're really pleased that they have decided to bring some service to the airport," said LVIA Executive Director George Doughty. "We've been in discussions with them for a long time but they haven't made the decision to do it until now."
In 2007, an airline consultant identified AirTran as the most likely major airline to begin new service from LVIA. At that time, airport officials had been negotiating with the carrier for more than five years.
The airline will offer four flights per week to Orlando with an introductory rate of $79 each way and three to Fort Lauderdale with opening rates of $84 each way.
AirTran joins Allegiant Air and DirectAir in flying to Florida from the Lehigh Valley, but will offer the only service to Fort Lauderdale. Last year, Allegiant canceled its service to Fort Lauderdale, citing high fuel costs.
Doughty said despite the number of nonstop flights to Florida, AirTran should have no trouble attracting passengers. A study of passenger traffic showed that as many as 400 passengers per day are using Newark and Philadelphia Airports to travel to Florida, Doughty said.
"That's in addition to people who flew connecting flights from LVIA because they couldn't get a nonstop," he said.
Doughty said his hope is that AirTran will be successful in adding the two routes and want to expand to others in the future.
"We'd like to see them go to Atlanta," he said. "Adding that route would be very exciting for us."
The airport's fortunes have waxed and waned over the past decade with several airlines canceling service and others, such as Allegiant and DirectAir, adding routes.
In 2008, passenger traffic from LVIA dropped 8 percent, leading to the lowest number of fliers in at least a decade.
Traffic at LVIA peaked in 2004 with more than 1 million passengers, but fell below 780,000 passengers last year
Last month, airport and county officials released a long-awaited report on ways to increase the airport's reach into the Lehigh Valley.
The study recommended the formation of a committee made up of area elected officials, business leaders and economic development agencies to help attract new carriers to the airport.
The study, which was paid for jointly by Lehigh and Northampton counties also recommended greater involvement by county governments.
What: AirTran Airways will offer round-trip, nonstop flights from Lehigh Valley International Airport to Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, starting June 25.
Fort Lauderdale flight: Departs from LVIA at 11:25 a.m. and arrives at 2:05 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday. Departs from Fort Lauderdale at 8 a.m. and arrives at LVIA at 10:40 a.m. on same days.
Orlando flight: Departs from LVIA at 5:10 p.m. and arrives at 7:40 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Leaves Orlando at 2:10 p.m. and arrives at LVIA at 4:35 p.m. on same days.
Introductory cost: One-way flight to Fort Lauderdale is $84; one-way flight to Orlando is $79
Source: AirTran Airways