MidAmerica Airport Has Longing for Business Travelers

Oct. 20--MidAmerica Airport near Mascoutah was a workable alternative for vacationers wanting a Florida getaway until last month, when TransMeridian Airlines went bankrupt and ended service to Orlando, Fla.

The airport's leisure travel model was briefly threatened, until the announcement on Wednesday that its remaining airline, Allegiant Airlines of Las Vegas, will pick up service to Orlando starting in February. The airline already flies to Las Vegas from MidAmerica four times a week.

With the top leisure destinations for St. Louis travelers once again sewn up, airport administrators are free to consider how to accomplish the other model for passenger service: becoming an option for business travelers.

"The No. 1 business destination -- and we're putting all our efforts into this -- is Washington, D.C.," MidAmerica's executive director, Tim Cantwell, said on Wednesday, shortly after a news conference about the resumption of service to Florida. "It's No. 1 on our passenger study."

That includes travelers going to the two airports at the nation's capital and Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The difficulty for MidAmerica is that business travelers typically are less flexible about planning a trip than those wanting a weekend with Mickey Mouse or in front of slot machines in Las Vegas, Cantwell said.

"Our preliminary results show a 50- to 70-seater doing multiple runs back and forth," he said of the possible planes that would work in a business model, according a study commissioned on how to attract airlines that serve business travelers.

The target is an employee of the federal government whose plane tickets would come through government buyers that search for cheap deals with airlines.

Despite his optimism, Cantwell cautioned that business flights may be slow to develop. "In a greenfield airport, you don't just plant 700 flights a day," he said. "You've got to build up on it."

Airport officials are meeting with airlines that could fit MidAmerica's business traveler model. The choice is unlikely to be Allegiant, which seems committed to MidAmerica but is based on leisure travel, said spokeswoman Tyri Squyres.

Allegiant's Orlando flights will initially be on Wednesdays and Saturdays, beginning on Feb. 1.

People who reserve tickets before Nov. 5 will be eligible for a one-way fare of $59. The regular one-way fare for the trip probably will range from $89 to $209, according to the company.

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