Chicago's Millennium Park will be one of the destination's Fresnans can enjoy when direct air service to the city begins in June 2018. Photo via wikipedia user Pedro Szekely
Written by David Castellon
For the first time, direct flights will be offered between Fresno Yosemite International Airport and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
United Express will begin offering the flights starting June 7, 2018 through its partner, SkyWest Airlines, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand told reporters gathered for the announcement this afternoon at city hall.
“O’Hare airport is the fourth largest airport in the world. These new flights offer a greater opportunity and convenience for folks traveling to the Midwest or connecting to other destinations on the East Coast or going on to Europe,” he said.
“This also means that people throughout the world will have greater accessibility to the city of Fresno” while also creating more opportunities for business between the Midwest and here, Brand continued, noting that Chicago is the headquarters of several Fortune 500 companies.
Kevin Meikle, Fresno’s director of aviation, said the new flights will be a boon for local passengers.
“You can get to virtually anywhere in the world from Chicago,” Meikle said, later adding that O’Hare is the busiest hub for domestic flights in the U.S. “And that’s really the key for aviation — connectivity to the world. And it drives economic development.”
“If you can get into Chicago at 5 a.m., the world is open to you.”
In some cases, skipping a hub also may increase competition among airlines and drive down some fares, he said.
Brand said the change also is expected to create 123 new jobs — both those coming from the airline and those created indirectly — and generate $6.2 million of additional economic activity annually.
SkyWest will offer daily flights, with those heading to Chicago taking off at 11:01 p.m. and arriving at 5:12 a.m.
Flights from Chicago will leave at 7:35 p.m. and land here at 10:16 p.m.
Currently, the Fresno airport offers flights to Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Guadalajara, Mexico.
Brand said that in the future, he would like to see direct flights added to the nation’s other major airline hubs including Miami, New York City and Washington, D.C.
United offers its current flights at Fresno Yosemite through SkyWest to some of those destinations with the exception of its morning flight to San Francisco, which is provided by a 166-seat United Boeing 737.
The Chicago flights will be aboard 76-seat Embraer E175 jets.
As for why United is adding the flights, Meikle said it qualifies for some incentives, including a waiver of landing fees for the Chicago flights over the first two years and a up to a $200,000 “marketing support incentive” to help promote the new service.
He noted that money for these incentives already is in the Fresno airport’s budget.
But more importantly, Meikle said, United is noticing the economic growth currently going on here and in the rest of the Central Valley, including plans by Amazon and Ulta Beauty to build major distribution centers in Fresno.
“They like to see this positive momentum —these positive steps forward — because that makes it easier for them to take that risk and commit to this type of service,” Meikle said.
“When they come right out of the gate and commit to daily [service], that’s a big deal. That says they know there’s great potential in our market.”