Non-stop flights from Charleston to Chicago nixed

May 28, 2019

CHARLESTON — Eighteen years of nonstop air service between Charleston’s Yeager Airport and Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport is coming to an end on May 31, when United Airlines stops operating Yeager’s longest commercial nonstop route.

Yeager Airport marketing director Dominique Ranieri said airline officials cited a shortage of pilots and aircrew members as the reason for suspending Houston-Charleston service.

Starting last year, a national shortage of pilots prompted airlines to begin dropping flights to some of their smaller markets, particularly those using smaller regional jets, and focus on routes to larger cities that carried more passengers.

Some of the flights dropped in 2018 and earlier this year were seasonal in nature and were, or eventually will be, restored during periods of heavier traffic.

Passenger loads on the 975-mile Charleston-Houston flights were good, according to Ranieri.

“The Houston route was profitable for the airline,” she said. “We are hoping it will be a seasonal suspension” and resume operating at a later date.

United currently operates one outbound and one inbound nonstop flight daily between Charleston and Houston.

Airline trade journals cite a lower number of military pilots leaving the service and applying for airline positions, and a general drop in interest in flying careers among young people for the current pilot shortage. In 2017, Yeager Airport officials hosted an event with a mechanical bull and drawings for airline tickets to celebrate 15 years of nonstop service between Charleston and Houston.

Although a federal subsidy for smaller airports was used as an incentive to begin the Charleston-Houston flights, they proved to be profitable soon after the subsidy lapsed.

“The Houston flights have generated total net airline revenue of more than $102 million since they began in 2002,” Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said during the 2017 celebration.

So far this year, passenger boardings at Yeager are up 7 percent over the same period in 2018.

While the Houston service is soon to be suspended, American Airlines has announced that starting Sept. 4, it will initiate nonstop daily service between Yeager and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. United Airlines currently operates three daily flights to O’Hare.

“The Houston route was profitable for the airline. ... We are hoping it will be a seasonal suspension.”

Dominique Ranieri

Marketing director, Yeager Airport

All contents © copyright 2019 The Associated Press.All rights reserved.