UPDATE: Columbia Regional Airport to offer nonstop flights to Atlanta

Friday, March 2, 2012 | 8:24 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Travel agents have highlighted the benefits of the newest travel option for mid-Missouri residents, including easier connections to the Southeastern Conference and the rest of the world. 

Daily, nonstop midday flights to Atlanta from Columbia Regional Airport will begin June 7.

The partnership with Delta and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport will potentially expand opportunities for those traveling internationally and will be good for travel to and from SEC events, Mayor Bob McDavid said.

"I think it's important to have a strong connection into SEC country," Greg Cecil of the Columbia Regional Airport Advisory Board said. "We need to make sure we're available to them as well."

Delta already provides three daily flights to and from Memphis International Airport at Columbia Regional Airport. The Memphis flights have proved popular since they began in August 2008.

The addition of the flights to Atlanta could help streamline air travel for passengers. 

Beth Granger, a travel counselor at AAA Travel Agency, said being limited to the Memphis hub sometimes was a hassle.

"It was inconvenient before because we had to make multiple connections," Granger said.

With more flight options available, flying from Columbia could become a more pleasing option than driving to either St. Louis or Kansas City's airports.

"I think it's going to make the cost and travel time more attractive to people," Granger said. "Even if it's a little more expensive to fly out of Columbia, people will fly out of Columbia for convenience."

Paula Thomas, a travel consultant at Great Southern Tiger Travel, thinks customers will be happy about the Atlanta connection option.

"It gives us a direct international connection to Europe and South America, which we do a lot of," Thomas said.

Thomas cited differences between the Memphis and Atlanta airports.

"It will be a little bit more hectic than Memphis," Thomas said, "but I think it will be fine as long as travelers have enough connecting time."

McDavid announced the partnership with Delta and Hartsfield-Jackson at a news conference Friday morning. Flights to Atlanta will leave Columbia at 10:10 a.m. and return at 4:15 p.m.

According to Hartsfield-Jackson's website, Atlanta's airport is the busiest in the world, with more than 230 destinations in 53 countries.

MU Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Jackie Jones said that expanded air service is important to the community and to MU. She cited the impact on enrollment and institutional research, in addition to the Tigers joining the SEC.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for the city, the university, the business community and all of the citizens of mid-Missouri," Jones said. "We need to step forward and support it, and Mizzou is going to be right there."

McDavid said the Atlanta flights are a first and major step toward what he calls the "40 in 2020" initiative.

"'40 in 2020' means that by the year 2020, Columbia Regional Airport will host 40 percent of all airline travel for mid-Missourians," McDavid said. "We want those 600 mid-Missourians who drive daily to St. Louis Lambert International Airport to instead fly out of Columbia Regional Airport. We want those 300 mid-Missourians who drive daily to Kansas City International Airport to instead fly out of Columbia Regional Airport."

Delta started the Memphis service under an Essential Air Service contract with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which provided a $2.2 million annual subsidy. That marked the first time passengers could fly commercial jets from Columbia to anywhere other than St. Louis or Kansas City.

When Delta renewed its contract in 2010, however, it announced it would no longer require the federal subsidy.

City Manager Mike Matthes said that further improvements need to be made to  improve Columbia Regional Airport's infrastructure and that it is on target to spend $40 million during the next seven years.

"Airports do go away if you don't pay attention to them," Matthes said.

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robert link March 3, 2012 | 8:18 a.m.

Yesterday's pricing for travel 28 June-11 July COU round trip ATL is $406.
Total travel time is 4hr 10 min each way with 1hr 30min layover each way.

I just went online to check on pricing as I did yesterday, The non-stop price is ...$764. The total travel time is 1hr 50min. That's an increase of $358 and equals an 88% increase over the flight with a 1hr layover in Memphis. Not for my wallet. The $406 price is still available. I'll use the 1hr to shop or eat BBQ and try to find my next gate!
But isn't it said "Time is money." in business?

(Report Comment)
John Sullins March 3, 2012 | 3:47 p.m.

I am excited about this new flight option out of COU and always check local fares when traveling. If the fare is within $100 and doesn't require more than 1 stop, I prefer to fly out of COU instead of STL or MCI. Sadly, I checked just checked Delta's fares to go to Atlanta in July. The fare from COU is $700, more than $300 more than flights out of STL. For 2 people, that would be a huge savings to drive to STL. Unless the fares are more reasonable, I doubt many people will book the new flight. I even checked fares to Paris or London in the fall. Luckily, the fares were more competitive but Delta's website will only route me through MEM and then ATL. It wouldn't let me book a 1 stop connection in ATL. Hope they get their website fixed to show better connection options or most people will continue to fly out of STL.

(Report Comment)
Nicholas Blond March 6, 2012 | 1:38 p.m.

@robert link: Total block time for the flight is actually 1:50 each way--not 4:10. And there are no layovers (it's a non-stop), although the system might route you through Memphis as a potential option outside of the 10:10 AM daily non-stop.

Pricing directly into a hub (such as MEM or ATL) often results in a higher price than flying to the hub and then onward to a third, final destination. I could go into the economics of it, but for brevity's sake, just know it's called the "hub and spoke" model, and that airlines' pricing structures encourage connections through a hub--but not necessarily flights terminating at the hub.

Considering that the MEM-Amsterdam flight is switching to seasonal service (summer only), it's nice that our city will maintain (one) daily flight to a hub with broad international coverage--ATL has everything from Lagos to London to Shanghai--and the famed 777 domestic repo flight between DTW-ATL can be a lotta fun when they run it, especially if it's due to a storm/IROP (think 150 rebooked Chinese executives, 35 families with crying children, and 15-20 airline pilots all trying to get repositioned to destinations around the Earth b/c of a maintenance issue on a 747 in DTW!!!).

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