This article was originally published on TimesFreePress.com.
For the first time in a dozen years, Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport fliers can travel nonstop to the New York City area as United Airlines begins two daily flights starting in September.
The new United nonstops between Chattanooga and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey will cut more than half the time it now takes travelers to fly to the Big Apple, officials said Friday.
United, which hasn’t serviced Chattanooga in at least 15 years, also will offer two nonstops daily between Lovell Field and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport beginning in September.
Terry Hart, the Chattanooga airport’s chief executive, said New York is the largest market without nonstop service from Chattanooga and one of the most desired by area business travelers.
“This will be a big win for us,” he said.
The airline will fly 50-seat Embraer regional jets on the new nonstops starting Sept. 7, Hart said.
He said the schedules for the new New York and Chicago service are favorable to fliers. United will offer early morning flights out of Chattanooga and then evening returns to Lovell Field, allowing business travelers to fly out and back in the same day.
Bill Kilbride, who heads the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Scenic City has both established and new companies which do business in New York.
“More and more, there’s that need to go that way,” he said. “There’s a lot of businesses that want to go — need to go.”
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said that with the city’s growing Innovation District, the addition of the non-stop flights are “a game-changer.”
He said the flights ensure Chattanooga becomes “a more connected city” by giving people convenient access to some of the nation’s most important destinations.
United’s Newark hub is the carrier’s biggest on the East Coast.
Hart, who said he has been working on some kind of New York service since he was appointed the airport’s chief in 2011, noted that Newark has a lot of connections elsewhere to the Northeast as well as to Europe and Asia. He said that’s key to Volkswagen and the Chattanooga area’s growing automotive sector.
The carrier gives Chattanooga travelers access to United’s Star Alliance network rewards program for frequent fliers. German airline Lufthansa also is part of the network, Hart said.
Frank Spillman, United’s director of regional sales, said the carrier is looking forward to starting service to its two biggest hubs from Chattanooga.
“United Airlines wants to be the carrier that customers from Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia choose first,” he said in a statement.
United’s Chicago service will go head to head with American Airlines, which already has nonstops from Chattanooga to O’Hare.
Dan Jacobson, the Chattanooga Airport Authority’s chairman, cited the travelers who use Lovell Field, saying that “their commitment influenced United’s decision.”
Hart said the airport plans to offer United incentives, such as waiving landing fees and rental space costs for a period of time. It also will provide some marketing funds. The cost of the incentives to the airport weren’t immediately available, Hart said.
He said the airport still intends to seek a federal air service grant, but that will be used to woo other service if Lovell Field succeeds in landing that money.
The new United service will give Chattanooga nonstop flights to nine cities on four airlines.
Chattanooga’s airport has seen a big spike in passenger traffic over the past two years, setting records in 2014 and 2015. For the first two months of 2016, boardings are up 6.2 percent over the same period a year ago, according to the airport. Hart said the airport is offering competitive fares and convenience.