A quick trip to see Wrigley Field will get easier this week.
Spirit Airlines will start a route from Atlantic City International Airport to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Friday.
Chicago becomes another major city added to the Egg Harbor Township airport’s destinations in the past two years by its two carriers, Spirit and AirTran. The airlines began routes from the local airport to Boston and Atlanta in 2009.
The Chicago flight will run five days a week until April 1, when it will run daily. Most tickets for the Atlantic City-Chicago service available on Spirit Airlines's website are $49 to $119, with some fares rising as high as $161 or falling as low as $11, depending on day of travel and membership in the airline's fare club.
The route’s first flight from Atlantic City to Chicago on Friday afternoon is about half full — 84 people booked on a flight of about 140 seats — said Sharon Gordon, spokeswoman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which runs the airport. She said the return flight from Chicago is essentially full — 144 passengers on 145 seats.
“We expect the Chicago service will be very similar in bringing new customers to Atlantic City and will help bolster the convention business,” Gordon said. “Every time we open up a new destination from Atlantic City International, we’re able to recapture the leakage of passengers who find themselves going to Philadelphia. That’s the way we can offer that top market to our local regional passengers.”
Starting in April, the new route will stop in Chicago and continue to Los Angeles, Gordon said. Flying into Chicago will also connect the local airport with Las Vegas through Spirit.
The airline started nonstop daily service from Chicago to Las Vegas in November, said Misty Pinson, spokeswoman for Florida-based Spirit Airlines.
Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines announced last week it will begin flying out of Newark Liberty International Airport on March 27. Southwest is in the process of acquiring AirTran. But any impact to the local airport would be speculative, said Olga Romero, spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines.
“It’s too early to say. We are still working on the first steps of the acquisition,” Romero said.
Atlantic City International Airport is coming off record growth in 2010, fueled by the addition of Boston and Atlanta and benefiting from the convenience for local flyers, as well as the relatively low costs.
About 1.4 million passengers used the airport last year, 37 percent more than 2009 and the most passengers since the airport began commercial service in 1985.
The airport’s two low-cost carriers run barebones flights, often with high associated costs for baggage and storage. The local airport has the lowest average fares among the nation’s top 100 airports, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
The airport is also in the midst of an 18-month, $25 million expansion to attract more flights and open itself to more international passengers. The airport's last direct international flights ended when Canada-based West Jet canceled its Toronto-to-Atlantic City route in May.
The expansion is expected to be finished by summer of 2012.
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