Passengers flying out of the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport will soon have nonstop access to one of the nation’s biggest airports, with Spirit Airlines adding service to Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
The expansion is a major step in the evolution of Gateway, which has served mostly smaller markets and a few secondary airports at the edge of larger metro areas.
While Chicago will bring more tourists in the winter, the new flights offer significant potential for economic development. Mesa Vice Mayor Scott Somers cited a MasterCard statistic that Chicago is the fourth-most important business center in the world.
The Chicago service will help boost plans for the Gateway area to eventually be an employment hub with 100,000 jobs centered around the airport, he said. Somers said the Chicago service opens the door to the area transforming into an aerotropolis.
“To make that happen, you have to have connections,” he said.
Spirit’s low-cost service will begin Nov. 9 and operate daily until April 24. Some introductory prices are as low as about $38, including fees and taxes.
But there’s a catch.
Passengers must be willing to depart from Gateway at 1:55 a.m. and arrive in Chicago at 6:15 a.m. The return flight departs Chicago at 9:45 p.m. and arrives in Mesa at 12:40 a.m. The airline chose the flight times based on aircraft availability, said Michael Pewther, Spirit’s senior sales director.
The airline expects the red-eye flight won’t deter passengers, Pewther said.
“We find that people will alter their behavior if the fares are attractive,” he said.
Spirit will operate the flights seasonally but would consider year-round service if demand warrants it.
Spirit began serving Gateway this spring, with service to Las Vegas, Dallas/Fort Worth and Fort Lauderdale. The airline expects the additional destination will help grow traffic to the existing cities, Pewther said.
“Chicago has proven itself over and over again as a mini-hub,” he said. “Chicagoans love Arizona.”
Mesa has had strong ties to Illinois dating to 1952, when the Chicago Cubs first came to the city for spring training. The $99 million Cubs spring training complex under construction will keep the team in the city for 30 years, or more.
The O’Hare addition will contribute to Gateway’s rapidly growing passenger traffic, which was just less than 1 million this year but is likely to exceed 1.2 million this year.
Spirit wouldn’t say if or when it plans to add other cities. It serves a number of large metro areas, unlike the smaller markets served by Gateway’s other airline, Allegiant.
Milt Fort, marketing director for the Mesa Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said he expects the airlines will continue to grow service based on their success here.
“Both airlines have said they will have more cities announced by the end of the year,” Fort said.
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