TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) -- Anticipation is building for the launch of Topeka Regional Airport's new United Airlines jet service, which is scheduled for take-off January 7.
Workers at the airport have been busy re-upholstering, painting the terminal a more modern shade of blue, installing new United kiosks, and bag-claim, check-in and seating areas. They're working on building a new internet lounge area and adding more windows as well.
However, the feature they want to show off the most is convenience.
"It's all about 'easy,' it's all about 'convenience,' and it's all in Topeka," President of the Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority Eric Johnson said. He wants convenience to be the main message when United begins daily flights to Chicago on January 7th.
"I think there's some misunderstanding that it's another destination service where it's from here to Chicago and that's it, and that's not the case. It's a connection to Chicago, a major hub, on United service, to anywhere that you'd want to go."
Johnson said he just bought his ticket for that inaugural flight for $180 roundtrip, which he says, is cheaper than Kansas City International.
"Travel will be easier, no tolls, you don't have to deal with inclement weather or nighttime driving over the highway. Parking is very convenient here. It's $5 for as long as you're in the parking lot."
Johnson said this new deal is much different from past air service arrangements. MTAA has partnered with companies like Mohawk and U.S. Airways, but Johnson said it didn't produce the type of service they needed. Allegiant still partners with Topeka Regional, but it does not fly on a regular schedule and is publicly chartered.
"We've had others, shared flights," he said, "so if you left here you could go to Chicago, but you had to stop at another city. That doesn't work."
He pointed out that in the time it takes to get to KCI and get on a plane, a passenger flying United through Topeka Regional would already be in Chicago. The flight takes about an hour and a half.
Topeka Regional worked with the state of Kansas and the Small Community Air Service Development program to guarantee $2 million in revenue for United. The state dollars would not have to be used unless United didn't meet revenue projections.
Johnson said Topeka shares some of the risk in starting the new service and that success depends on changing habits.
We know that it's going to take time, we know that we have to get the word out, we know that we have to market this," Johnson said. "But I believe it will happen."
Johnson said that if the Chicago air service is a success, the next goal is to provide service to Denver.
The ultimate goal -
"We want to make this a fully-functioning regional airport that attracts business and provides air service to existing businesses."
Those wanting to book a flight with United through Topeka Regional can go to www.united.com where they can access a cost calculator to compare with other airports.