EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — The Windy City and Atlantic City are now two hours apart after the first Chicago-bound flight departed from the local airport Friday afternoon.
Spirit Airlines is offering flights from Atlantic City International Airport to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport five days a week until April 1, when flights will arrive and depart daily.
David and Patty Town, of Absecon, and their son, Alex, 9, boarded the inaugural flight. Alex, wearing a Chicago Blackhawks shirt, was looking forward to a Friday night hockey game, a Saturday trip to Chicago landmarks and a Sunday drive to Michigan and Indiana to help him reach his goal of visiting all 50 states. This weekend will make 17.
Alex said he has known all the state capitals since he was in first grade. Springfield, he said, is the capital of Illinois.
The family flies from Atlantic City International Airport several times a year, and the Chicago flight was too good to pass up, David Town said.
“It’s five minutes from our house,” he said.
Ninety-one passengers took the first flight from Atlantic City to Chicago, about two-thirds of the plane’s capacity, said Sharon Gordon, spokeswoman for the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which runs the airport in Egg Harbor Township.
Friday evening’s incoming flight from Chicago sold out all 145 seats, she said.
Other flights departing from the local airport Friday traveled to West Palm Beach, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers in Florida; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Atlanta.
Kevin McCarthy, who lives in Freehold, Monmouth County, and has a home in Wildwood Crest, said he believes the route will be successful, particularly because of its convenience.
His family was heading to a wedding at Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., this weekend.
They each paid $170 round trip for the flight, he said.
A number of the passengers had no idea they were on an inaugural flight from Atlantic City International to Chicago, including Heather Brady, of Wilmington, Del., who was on a weekend trip with friends.
“It’s a girls’ night on the town tonight in Chicago,” she said.
Airport officials said the new flights would draw more passengers and connect Atlantic City International to more cities.
Starting in April, the Spirit plane that stops in Chicago will continue on to Los Angeles International Airport, said Bart Mueller, executive director of the airport.
Opening the airport to major cities such as Chicago is an important part of the airport’s goal to attract more flights, he said.
In the two years since Spirit added Boston and AirTran Airways added Atlanta as destinations from Atlantic City International, the number of passengers has risen. The airport saw 1.4 million passengers in 2010, the most in its history.
Atlantic City International is in the middle of a $25 million expansion designed to attract more flights and open the airport to international flyers.
Workers on Friday were installing piling for the 75,000-square-foot expansion, which will add passenger boarding bridges, a larger baggage claim and a federal inspection station for international flights.
Contact Brian Ianieri: