COLUMBIA — The southern breeze was laced with the smell of jet fuel as the final Frontier Airlines flight departed from Columbia Regional Airport to Orlando International Airport, ending the airline's six-month occupancy of the southern end of the terminal.
Frontier Airlines announced in February that it would discontinue the popular Orlando flights. Its decision to terminate air service to and from Columbia was due to "bookings not meeting expectations," according to a Feb. 18 Missourian article.
Columbia Regional Airport Manager Don Elliott said the airline still has left him in the dark about exactly why it is ending air service. Elliott said he doesn't believe it's an instance of the airport or administrators doing anything wrong but rather a sign that the company is struggling financially.
"They have not given us a reason," Elliott said. "I know they have closed several of the other stations that they opened when they came here, too."
As the final departing Frontier aircraft faded into the sky, the conversations turned toward finding a replacement airline for Columbia Regional Airport. Elliott said the search won't be easy and that it could last months, maybe years.
"There really isn't a timeline," Elliott said. "It is hard to predict when the airlines will decide to expand services."
For some of the 138 passengers on the inbound Airbus 319 flight from Orlando to Columbia, news of the final flight came as a complete surprise.
"This is just sad," Lasha Hepburn, 32, said. She said she has traveled to Orlando with her 3-year-old son, Zion, six or seven times over the past two years to see family. She had a special message for city administrators.
"Please find someone, I don't care if it is Delta or Southwest or whoever, just find someone."
Patrick Cox, 54, a mortgage banker in Columbia, said he and his family had to rearrange their travel plans because of Frontier's cancellation of services.
"We originally booked our trip back in June but then had to bump our flight up earlier because of the change," Cox said. Cox said he hoped that city and airport administrators would be able to bring Southwest to Columbia.
"I have always loved Southwest, and they would bring more, different options to the airport."
Elliott said city leaders and airport administration have been in contact with several airlines and acknowledged that Southwest or United Airlines keep coming up.
"We've been in constant contact with several different airlines," Elliott said. "Like I said, it is hard to know when."
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.