COLUMBIA — Only two seats went unfilled on Frontier Airlines' inaugural flight to Orlando from Columbia Regional Airport on Tuesday afternoon.
Travelers en route to visit family, Fort Myers and Disney World packed the recently renovated passenger boarding area before climbing aboard the 138-seat Airbus 319 parked on the tarmac.
James Martin and son Jack, 8, wore matching aqua-green Perry the Platypus shirts — Jack's favorite character from the Disney Channel television show "Phineas and Ferb."
The Martins — James, his wife, Christina, his daughter, Ellie, and Jack — were looking forward to spending Thanksgiving at Disney World.
"The kids get to have dinner with the Disney characters," Christina Martin said.
"I'm going to eat with the princesses," Ellie, 4, added while pointing to the Mount Rushmore of Disney princesses on her shirt.
The flight left the runway 30 minutes late, but that's normal for the "first day of operation," Don Elliott, airport manager, said.
The flight marked the first of Frontier's twice-weekly flights to and from Orlando International Airport.
Flights depart Columbia Regional Airport for Orlando at 4:15 p.m. Tuesdays and at 10:25 a.m. Saturdays. Flights to Columbia leave Orlando at 1:50 p.m. Tuesdays and at 8 a.m. Saturdays.
"Columbia seemed like a great catchment area," Andrea Tollar, director of sales for Frontier, said. "That's airline speak for lots of people who want low-fare service to warm weather."
Tollar said that if the twice-weekly flights prove profitable, Frontier will consider adding another flight to Orlando. At that point, Frontier might expand service to Denver, its primary hub.
Mayor Bob McDavid said he wasn't getting ahead of himself.
"The focus for me, right now, is to make sure these planes are full," he said. "This is a 'use-it-or-lose-it' kind of deal."
The first Frontier flight from Columbia comes two weeks after McDavid held a news conference announcing that Delta Air Lines, the only other airline provider currently servicing Columbia, will discontinue its flights to and from Atlanta in February 2013. The airline ended its daily flight to Memphis earlier this month.
"It was a sad day for us when they left. Delta grew with us as an airport," Greg Cecil, the chairman of the Airport Advisory Board, said.
McDavid said he remains confident that the airport will realize its "40 in 2020 initiative," that calls for the airport to host 40 percent of daily airline travel for mid-Missourians within eight years.
Beginning in February 2013, American Airlines will offer daily flights to Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth out of Columbia.
McDavid said that with the addition of the Frontier and American Airlines flights, the 2012 daily capacity of 126 passengers at the airport will jump to 201 passengers in 2013.
With the reported increase in passengers, Cecil admitted a new, flashier terminal with more capacity for waiting passengers would help Columbia attract more airline providers.
"It's sort of a, 'if you build it, they will come,' thing," Cecil said. "But right now, we just don't have the money."
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