QUINCY -- Mike Schroeder said he would not describe himself as a "frequent flyer," but he's in the air enough to appreciate the arrival of SkyWest Airlines to Quincy Regional Airport.
"This is a good day for Quincy. This is a very positive thing," said Schroeder, who with his wife, Cheryl, were among the Quincy residents on board Friday night for the inaugural SkyWest flight to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
Schroeder said more connecting opportunities in Chicago were among the amenities he liked about having SkyWest as the new provider in Quincy. The safety aspect of having two pilots, instead of one, also appealed to Schroeder.
"These are all great things," he said.
Quincy Mayor Kyle Moore was also among the dozen or so passengers Friday night.
"The flight took about 40 minutes," Moore told The Herald-Whig in a telephone interview from Chicago. "It's really incredible, an eye-opening experience. I think Quincyans are really going to appreciate this.
"All the connecting possibilities out of O'Hare is like having the world at your fingertips. Once business people and vacationers in Quincy get used to this, they'll realize how good this will be for the city."
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced in August that it was awarding a two-year contract to SkyWest for 12 nonstop round trips a week from Quincy to Chicago at an annual subsidy of $2.659 million through the Essential Air Service program.
SkyWest partners with United and a handful of other major airlines. That's why there is now an abundance of United signs at the Quincy airport and why Friday night's flight was on a 50-passenger Bombardier CRJ-200 United Express jet, which includes climate control, lavatories and other amenities.
"We are excited about providing this new service to Quincy, and we have more opportunities planned for the future," said Magda Morais, the managing director for United Express regional partners airport operations.
United Express is the brand name for the regional branch of United Airlines, under which nine individually owned regional airlines such as SkyWest operate short- and medium-haul flights.
SkyWest, headquartered in St. George, Utah, was among five airlines that sought to serve Quincy Regional Airport under the latest EAS contract. Quincy aldermen initially selected Air Boutique as the preferred carrier under a plan that would have provided both St. Louis and Chicago flights. But the Quincy City Council eventually chose SkyWest after hearing the U.S. Department of Transportation was looking favorably on the SkyWest option.
SkyWest does not independently operate any flights, instead working on a contract basis with mainline partners. It is paid to operate and maintain aircraft used on flights that are scheduled, marketed and priced by a partner airline.
Cape Air had been providing flights between Quincy and St. Louis since late 2009. The airline was providing 36 weekly flights aboard Cessna 402 aircraft. Ridership aboard Cape Air initially rose quickly. The city had more than 10,000 boardings for a few years, but passenger numbers fell below 10,000 boardings in 2014 and stood at about 7,600 last year.
Denite Cooley of Quincy said she will miss the smaller, cozier Cape Air flights but is also excited about what SkyWest offers with connecting flights out of Chicago. She thinks SkyWest may be better for her personal traveling needs.
"I fly to different parts of the country seven or eight times a year to teach," Cooley said. "I think it may be easier to get (connecting flights) out of O'Hare."
Cooley, who is an optometrist, was leaving Friday for a teaching engagement in Boston.
Cape Air had proposed 12 weekly flights to Chicago's O'Hare and 24 weekly flights to St. Louis Lambert International Airport at an annual subsidy of $3.14 million.
SkyWest's one-way airfares start at $89. The airline has a fleet of 417 aircraft that make about 2,100 flights each day to 219 destinations in North America. The airline carried 31.2 million passengers in 2016.