Travel agents, tourism officials optimistic about American Eagle's return to Augusta Regional

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Five weeks remain until American Eagle flies into Augusta Regional Airport, but local travel agents have already started booking those flights.

Terrie Lee, a travel counselor at AAA Travel, began booking flights as soon as they were available in her computer system three weeks ago. She's glad to have a third option for her customers.

"I like American. They have some really good routes, and their prices have been really good compared to Delta and U.S. Airways. Hopefully, it will bring the prices down a little bit," Lee said.

American Eagle will have two direct flights daily from Augusta to Dallas.

The airline provides another avenue for customers to reach the Caribbean or South America, in addition to Charlotte, N.C., or Atlanta, Lee added. Her clients are traveling to St. Lucia, Cancun, Mexico and Seattle using American Eagle.

"When the flights are full for the other airports, you've got that extra option," she said.

American Eagle's first inbound flight will arrive in Augusta at 4 p.m. June 10. The first departure flight is at 4:30 p.m., said Diane Johnston, the director of marketing for Augusta Regional.

There will also be a 10 p.m. arrival that day, which stays overnight and departs the next day at 6:40 a.m., she said.

As part of its agreement with American Eagle, the airport has hired two full-time supervisors and four part-time ticketing and customer support workers, who are currently in training, Johnston said. After a year, American Eagle could either take over the job functions or hire a third party.

American Eagle's flights are expected to increase tourism in the Augusta area, said Peggy Seigler, the vice president of sales and marketing at the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"I think it can only help our efforts. More seats coming into Augusta means more people can come to conventions, meetings and even family reunions. We're excited about it," Seigler said.

Having another travel option could increase participation in sporting events such as Ironman and the International Mountain Bicycling Association, she said.

Seigler said she plans to use the airline to fly to Texas for her high school reunion.

Still, American Eagle has some obstacles to overcome, said Patty Font, the office manager at Augusta Travel Agency. She has booked a few flights so far.

"Augusta's a tough market because you've got people with frequent-flier allegiance to Delta and U.S. Airways. I think it's a great option to have it, but it's going to be a tough sell," Font said.

American Eagle flies only to Dallas direct from Augusta, so the flights appeal only to people flying west, she said. Font said she hopes local residents will support American Eagle, however, so the airline might open additional routes.

Coleen Cook, the owner of Going Places Travel, recalls when American Eagle flew in and out of Augusta in the early 1990s. The airline left because it wasn't getting enough business, she said.

"You've got to keep the flights full if they're going to stay here," said Cook, who hasn't booked any flights through American Eagle yet but said she's glad to have the option.

Flight prices

Here's how American Eagle compares to its competition (prices are for round-trip travel; booked through Travelocity and Expedia; scheduled Sunday, June 28, to Friday, July 2; and departing from Augusta Regional Airport):

TO CANCUNTRAVELOCITYEXPEDIA
American Eagle$550$520
Delta$550$580
U.S. Airways$715$718
TO ST. LUCIA*TRAVELOCITYEXPEDIA
American Eagle$1,319not listed
Delta$878$878
U.S. Airways$1,034not listed
TO SEATTLE**TRAVELOCITYEXPEDIA
American Eagle$404$455
Delta$284$274
U.S. Airways$504$703

* St. Lucia Vigie Airport

** Seattle Tacoma International Airport

Note: All flights required one stop.


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