Mobile's New Chicago Flight is Hot Ticket

The daily, round-trip flights by American Eagle, an affiliate of American Airlines, have flown at or near capacity since they started April 10, according to airport director Thomas Hughes.

A 44-seat American Eagle Embraer jet departs Chicago's O'Hare International Airport each morning at 7:30 and arrives at Mobile Regional at 9:40 a.m. The return flight departs Mobile at 10:05 a.m. and arrives in Chicago at 12:20 p. m.

"They've done extremely well. Nearly all of the flights have been full - I think the fewest they've flown with is 40 passengers," Hughes said.

Ticket costs vary from about $269, if booked in advance, to almost $500 per roundtrip, according to airport officials.

Based on the success thus far, Mobile Regional has asked American Eagle to consider adding a second roundtrip between the cities, Hughes said. "We'd like an earlier departure from Mobile because the current schedule really favors the Chicago traveler," he said.

He said the carrier is reviewing the request but has committed to adding a fourth daily flight between Mobile Regional and Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport beginning in June.

American Eagle's "load factor" - the percentage of seats filled - averages about 80 percent on flights to and from Mobile Regional, second-highest among the six airlines serving the airport. The airline ranks fourth in market share, accounting for about 14 percent of local passenger traffic.

The Mobile Airport Authority, which owns and operates Mobile Regional, has been marketing the Chicago and Dallas flights with billboard, newspaper and Web-based advertisements, Hughes said.

Fares at Mobile Regional remain high compared with other Gulf Coast airports. The average domestic ticket in Mobile was $294 in March, compared with $248 at Pensacola Regional Airport and $244 at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.

Passenger traffic at Mobile Regional is down slightly from a year ago, according to airport officials. A total of 143,520 passengers passed through the airport during the first three months of 2007, a 6 percent decline from the first quarter of 2006.

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