PIB adds jet service to Windy City

Just a few years ago, when the Pine Belt region found itself struggling to fill small turboprop airplanes with a dismal service record to Atlanta, it would have been hard to imagine American Airlines jet service serving the Jones County airport.

 In 2014, dreams came true for some when the Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport (PIB) announced jet service to Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) through American Eagle, a subsidiary of American Airlines.

Now, not only will the airport offer flights to DFW, but will soon offer jet service to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD).

Heanue explained that he’s aware of only two or three other small markets in the entire country going to hubs.

“You don’t see it very much,” he said.

By comparison, Tupelo air travelers have the option to fly to Nashville on planes with fewer than 10 seats and Miss. Delta travelers have the option to fly small planes to Dallas or Nashville on planes that seat between eight and 20 passengers. Contour Airlines, the service provider for Tupelo, and Boutique Air, the provider for the Delta, don’t have baggage or connection agreements with any other airline, meaning a traveler has to claim bags in Nashville or Dallas and re-check luggage for the next flight.

For the past three years, the local airport has been served by ExpressJet, branded as American Eagle. For a while, flights that started as shared between Meridian and Hattiesburg-Laurel were split apart with direct flights to Dallas from each market. Now, with the new service, the jets will again be shared between the neighboring markets. Because of that, Heanue urges passengers looking for seats to book early and make sure they pay to assign a seat on these flights.0

“Although we are losing our frequency (two times a day) to DFW, it works out well in our case,” Heanue said. “This opens back a market that was pretty good before in the Midwest. It’s also going north to get you towards Boston, New York or even Washington, D. C. Chicago has a lot of good connections. We have a lot of Cubs fans here. Maybe they can fly up to see a game. I think it’s going to work well. There may be some growing pains, but it’s going to be good for us.”

The change in service is prompted by aircraft and pilot shorts with the current carrier, ExpressJet.

“Skywest, the parent company, has been very happy with the travelers out of the Pine Belt and Meridian and wanted toi ensure service was continued in the Essential Air Service market,” said Heanue. So, they are  taking over service locally.

 Heanue said passengers won’t see much of a difference, other than a service provider with a lot more pilots and a lot more jets to fill in during problem scenarios. Flights will still be through American Airlines branded as American Eagle, and will still be served with 50-passenger jets.

Heanue said the later departure time of 8:50 a.m. will also be helpful for those who aren’t early risers.

“If we do really well, larger jets may be where we can go. It opens up a lot of options,” Heanue said. “Ridership will determine the future. We are very blessed to have a 50-passenger jet with the largest airline in the world. Who knows what direction we can go? They are working well with us and serving us with a viable option.”

Flights to Chicago begin June 2 with reservations available starting Sunday.

For more information about the local airport, visit www.flypib.com . For reservations, visit American Airline at www.aa.com .