United Airlines adds additional flights to Chicago

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COLUMBIA - United Airlines has confirmed that it added an additional daily flight to Chicago from Columbia Regional Airport (COU).

The airline now has three flights from Columbia to Chicago each day, due to "customer demand," according to a statement from United.

Community members voiced concerns and asked questions about Columbia Regional Airport at the All Things Airport coffee chat Thursday morning.

Airport manager Michael Parks said these conversations led to more American Airlines flights from Columbia to Chicago.

Thursday's meeting was the first since COU shut down for several days to facilitate renovations on its runways. The closure caught the community off guard and followed a number of canceled flights by United and American Airlines.

Columbia Community Relations Director Steven Sapp said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not yet approved funding for the runway repairs. The airport is in the process of submitting reports and requests for the money.

If the FAA denies the request, the airport will have to seek other sources of funding.

On Thursday, community members focused on questions regarding additional destinations and routes out of COU, construction of the new terminal and parking.

Parks said the airport is planning to add up to 200 additional parking spaces this summer, if weather allows.

COU hopes to have a design for the new terminal by the end of this year, begin construction next year or in 2021, with a grand opening in 2022.

Members of the community brought up interest in flights from COU to Charlotte, Las Vegas and Atlanta. Parks said there's a lot of trips that depart out of COU that connect to East Coast airports, so Charlotte is a popular suggestion.

Parks also said there are some things the airport doesn't control, including the scheduling and pricing of flights. Airlines make those decisions. 

"As we continue to grow, the airlines are consistently changing flights. They're always looking at where there is more need in the future," Parks said. 

Sapp brought up COU's growth over the last 10 years.

"I think we'll continue to see growth, thanks to the support from the 17 counties that Columbia Regional is designed to serve," said Sapp.

Parks said he and his staff take the questions and comments from the coffee chats to an annual conference with airlines currently serving Columbia. Airlines then make a decision about plans for future flights and expansion of flight destinations. 

"It can take years to figure out new routes," said Parks. "It takes a lot of coordination and planning between COU and the airlines."

"We continue to talk to the airlines about future expansion and future needs from the community. It ties back into community conversations and the requests that they have," said Parks. 

Parks said these meetings are also in other areas of the state.

"We don't just have meeting in Columbia. We've visited Jefferson City, Fulton, Moberly, Boonville. We go to surrounding communities as well because we understand it's not people just in Boone County who are using Columbia," Parks said. 

He said the airport wants to make sure everyone's questions are answered.

"We've got great momentum going forward. We just want to make sure we're as transparent as possible with passengers and ensuring that we're getting out as much information as we can about the benefits of flying out from Columbia," Parks said.