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United Airlines to Take Off from Bay County in 2015


Northwest Florida fliers will have new options next year, as United Airlines soon will take off at the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP).

United announced this week it will begin serving the Bay County area in early 2015, providing twice-daily, year-round service to the airline’s largest passenger hub at Houston’s George Bush International Airport (IAH).

Operated by United’s regional branch, United Express, the first flight is scheduled to take off March 5, with bookings available beginning Saturday on Passengers will be carried to Houston by ExpressJet Airlines on a 50-seat Embraer ERJ 145 aircraft.

ECP Director Parker McClellan said the service addition will connect the airport with hundreds of other domestic and international destinations. Passengers will have access to one-stop connections to other cities in United’s global route network, as well as other destinations in the Star Alliance network.

“It’s really the connection to their network,” McClellan said. “You get to Houston and you have access to 176 destinations.”

United and United Express alone operate about 560 daily flights to more than 170 destinations from Houston, which also serves as the airline’s main hub for flights to Mexico and Latin America. Other international destinations include cities in Africa, Asia, Europe and Canada.

Michael Brooks, United’s sales manager for North and Central Florida, said the airline sought service from ECP to satisfy both business and leisure travel markets in the area.

“United is pleased to add new United Express service between Northwest Florida and our Houston hub,” Brooks said. “In addition to providing business and leisure travelers nonstop service between the two airports, these new flights will also provide convenient one-stop access via the hub to and from dozens of destinations in United’s global route network.”

Although officials did not have price quotes available for the flights as of Thursday afternoon, a United spokeswoman said the company intends to be competitive when it enters the market. United also provides service from Pensacola International Airport and Northwest Florida Regional Airport in Okaloosa County.

ECP is now working with United Airlines to finalize an incentive package through a partnership with the Bay County and South Walton Tourist Development Councils. McClellan said Thursday he could not yet reveal the details of the pending business deal.

Following the announcement, McClellan said the airport will continue efforts to attract additional commercial service to ECP and is in conversations with a handful of airlines, including low-cost carrier JetBlue.

The airport received a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this year, designed to help small communities garner affordable and reliable air service for residents. Included in the airport’s grant application was a letter of support from JetBlue, indicating the airline was seeking to add service to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City from the Panhandle region.

United’s announcement also follows the unveiling of a major economic development project at the airport, with aerospace company Edge Aerodynamix announcing just weeks earlier it will establish operations at the airport and bring 120 new jobs to the area.

“I think that what we’ve seen over the last several months is what our community leaders envisioned when they started developing the airport,” McClellan said. “It’s taken some time to come to fruition, but it’s moving in the right direction now.”

ECP also offers service from Southwest Airlines, which already flies to Houston’s Hobby Airport, and Delta Air Lines.

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