It’s about to become easier to get to Chicago, the third most popular destination for people flying out of the University Park Airport.
Airport officials announced Monday that on Jan. 7, United Airlines will begin twice-daily, nonstop United Express flights between State College and Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
Along with the popularity of Chicago as a destination, Airport Director Bryan Rodgers said that area has important athletic, business and international connections.
The local airport currently offers nonstop flights to Detroit, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
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“It’s the heart of Big Ten country, so that’s very significant,” he said. “There are other entities within our business community that have found Chicago to be of value. There are some unique destinations served over Chicago O’Hare that are not served by Philadelphia or (D.C.) Dulles that make this attractive to our travelers and to United.”
The top two eventual destinations for those flying out of University Park are Orlando, Fla., and Atlanta.
ExpressJet will operate the flights to Chicago with 50-seat regional jets.
Local officials began talks with United Airlines officials in the spring of 2012.
“We’re just thrilled that, after all these months of talking with United, and they had some sense that this market would do well with flights to Chicago, that all the stars and planets lined up,” Rodgers said.
Outbound flights will leave State College at 6:20 a.m. and 5:03 p.m. daily, arriving in Chicago at 7:17 a.m. and 6 p.m., respectively.
Flights will leave Chicago en route to State College at 1:55 and 6:45 p.m., arriving here at 4:33 and 9:23 p.m., respectively.
The times were chosen to align with connections to the West Coast and Far East, the latter giving University Park the ability to better serve the area’s high Asian population.
“It’s great for people in this community to be able to connect pretty much anywhere,” Rodgers said. “It’s easier for folks here, but just as easy for folks wanting to come into State College.”
Though the flights don’t begin until January, people can begin booking now at www.united.com.
The last change in local air service was a loss of nonstop flights to Atlanta and Cincinnati in the summer of 2008. James Meyer, director of the Centre County Airport Authority and operational manager of the airport’s commercial terminal, said that was mostly due to the merger of Delta and Northwest. The new service may help draw additional service to University Park.
“Airlines are attracted to growth at an airport,” he said. “It’s like a catch-22; they won’t come until you already have new service. United has broken the ice. We believe they will be very successful to the point of adding a third flight down the road.”
Rodgers said this is the first time University Park has directly connected to Chicago by air.
“This has long been a priority for our community to have direct service to Chicago, and I think it’s a good thing,” he said. “Actually, it’s a great thing.”