MANATEE -- Seasonal flights between Chicago and Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport are showing positive growth before the airline reaches its first anniversary of returning to the airport.
United Airlines will add a second daily nonstop flight to and from Chicago during peak tourist season from Feb. 13 to April 7, the airport said Tuesday. United previously announced in August it would add twice-daily flights to and from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport from Dec. 19 to Jan. 6.
The flight should bring about 20,000 passengers through the Sarasota airport, said Frederick "Rick" Piccolo, president and chief executive officer of SRQ airport. The hope is that the seasonal flights extend their dates gradually into a year-round service, he said.
"I think the key is as they build it incrementally, they build the client base back up and makes sure their flights are accessible," Piccolo said.
United Airlines flights depart SRQ at 10:34 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. and arrive in Chicago at 12:29 p.m. and 4:10 p.m., respectively. Flights from Chicago to Sarasota will depart at 6:05 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. and arrive in Sarasota at 9:50 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., respectively. Tickets for flights from Sarasota to Chicago on Christmas are starting at $389 through Unit
Chicago-based United last November returned to SRQ for the first time since 1994 when it launched SRQ-to-Chicago service with one flight a day.
A winter flight is also expected to return to Detroit from Delta and another seasonal flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport through JetBlue could be coming soon, too, Piccolo said.
The airport was up 9 percent in passenger traffic in August, but is down 11 percent year-over-year. Piccolo's goal is to have a single-digit percentage drop for the year, and anticipates to be down about 80,000 passengers, because AirTran left SRQ in August 2012.
As United announced the new service, the federal government was in its first day of a shutdown. The shutdown will not affect the airport in the short term, and probably not in the long term either, Piccolo said.
Air traffic controllers continue to be at work, and essential security functions are still being being funded. The Federal Aviation Administration operations are funded through a trust fund, not included in Washington's budget battle, he said.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.