City celebrates inaugural American Airlines flight

The first daily American Airlines flight to Chicago from Columbia took off Thursday.

With airlines charging additional fees for everything from blankets to aisle seats, the last item travelers expect is free beer when they get to the airport.

But free beer is exactly what travelers received Thursday at Columbia Regional Airport, compliments of the Chamber of Commerce. The business organization was at the airport along with civic leaders, university officials and local executives celebrating the first daily flights out of Columbia serviced by American Airlines.

The city lobbied the airline for the past few months, putting together a package that guaranteed $3 million in revenue as long as the airline would continue daily flights to Dallas and Chicago for one year.

MU is expected to generate the majority of traffic for the new routes. Other than Missouri, Illinois and Texas send more students to the university than any other state. Illinois residents made up 14.7 percent of students in the most recent freshman class, with Texas as a distant second making up 2.6 percent.

The school hired two full-time admissions representatives for the Chicago area and one for the state of Texas. The focus on out-of-state recruiting comes as the number of high school graduates in Missouri is projected to decline in coming years, and the tuition dollars owed by non-residents increases.

The Columbia Regional Airport has weathered a myriad of service adjustments over the past year. When the American Airlines deal was announced, Delta Air Lines cut its service to Memphis and Atlanta. A recent entry to the market, Frontier Airlines, has decided to cut its service to Orlando after offering it for less than a year.

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