Spirit Airlines inaugurates flights to Dallas-Fort Worth from Arnold Palmer airport

| Saturday, June 15, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Despite a 90-minute weather delay, blue skies peeked through in Unity as the first flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport arrived under a water arch at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport.

Don Rossi, chairman of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority, said after a ribbon-cutting ceremony that he was interested to see what the added service will bring to the airport.

“It's like Christmas,” he said.

Spirit Airlines spokeswoman Misty Pinson said the delay was caused by storms from Chicago and throughout the East all week.

“It's one of those things we can't control,” she said, but want the passengers to arrive at their destinations as safely as possible, as quickly as possible.

The flights, with about 100 passengers each, were the first of service that will operate three times per week at the airport.

The three-hour flights will arrive regularly at 11:55 a.m., then depart for Dallas-Fort Worth at 12:35 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

After traveling to Dallas-Fort Worth, passengers can choose from 35 nonstop flights to such destinations as Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; San Diego; Phoenix; and Las Vegas.

Fares are averaging about $60, including taxes and fees one-way, Pinson said.

That made a big difference for Heather and Robert McAfee, who drove from Wexford to head to Dallas with their three young children.

“If you times (that by) five, that's a lot,” Heather McAfee said.

She said even though the drive to Pittsburgh International is about 25 minutes closer to their home, the cost of the plane tickets was about half the price for the whole family.

“I'll get to swim at my best friend's house Saturday night,” said 7-year-old Katelyn as she waited with her parents and brothers, Mason, 6, and Tyler, 3.

Passengers were able to partake of pierogies, hot sausage and Arnold Palmer lemonade-iced tea during the afternoon, while many airport workers donned cowboy hats or boots in the spirit of the Lone Star State.

“Just looking around the airport today, it's looking pretty busy,” Pinson said, adding that although the flights were not completely full, “we're happy with the numbers.”

Westmoreland County Airport Authority officials said they believe the public sees the value of the airport and the convenience of Spirit's service.

“It's a great thing for this airport to provide these services to the region,” said Gabe Monzo, authority executive director.

Westmoreland County Commissioner Ted Kopas said he and other county officials are glad to see the airport flourish, especially with the cooperation between county and airport authority officials.

“Our investment in this airport is paying off more and more every day,” he said. “It's been a tremendous partnership; none of us have done this alone.”

Spirit Airlines representatives were on hand to survey visitors from Dallas to help the authority gauge the reasons passengers flew in to Westmoreland County.

Commissioner Tyler Courtney echoed airport officials in predictions that Marcellus shale drilling companies or related industries may take advantage of the airline service.

“I think this shows the positive attention Westmoreland County is getting in the state,” he said, mentioning ongoing industrial development and the proposed Laurel Valley Connector highway that would join Route 30 with the Pennsylvania Turnpike via Route 981.

After disembarking the plane in Unity, 17-year-old friends from Dallas, Tyara Warren and Tiara Davenport, said it was easier to navigate the airport.

“Besides the delay and the crying baby, it was cool because we each had our own row of seats,” Warren said.

The pair were heading to a basketball camp at West Virginia University and flew with Warren's mother, Lakeshia Cox, who said the savings through the airline attracted them to the flight.

“Spirit was a good cost for us,” she said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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