MASCOUTAH — Ellen Goodspeed enjoyed her short trip to the airport Wednesday and looks forward to doing it again.
The Centralia resident said when she heard that passenger travel was returning to MidAmerica Airport, she immediately booked her ticket.
"I called probably a month ago to get on it," Goodspeed said. "When I first heard that they were going to come back out, I called."
She was among the initial passengers to board Allegiant Air, which on Wednesday afternoon began flying out of Mascoutah airport to Orlando Sanford International Airport located near Orlando, Fla. The nonstop, round-trip flights will be held twice a week.
This marks the return of passenger service to MidAmerica for the first time since early 2009. Goodspeed said she enjoyed the convenience of flying from the metro-east airport when MidAmerica offered initial passenger flights.
This is the second time that Allegiant Air has offered flights from the metro-east airport. The Las Vegas-based airline initially started passenger service in February 2006. Then, the airline flew twice weekly to Orlando and Las Vegas. The airline shut down operates at MidAmerica in November 2008.
Curtis Copple, also from Centralia, said he never got a chance to fly out of MidAmerica before and said he likes not having to go across the river to St. Louis to catch a flight.
"It's amazing," Copple said. "We love it. It's like having a major airport in your backyard."
Before passengers boarded, an official ribbon-cutting ceremony was held in the lobby at the entry to the stairwell that leads upstairs to the departure gates. Congressman-elect Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, cut the ribbon and welcomed the airline back to MidAmerica. He said the airline's return is one sign of economic growth that he and other lawmakers plan to help create in the metro-east.
"It's great to have Allegiant back here," Enyart said. "It's all part of what we're going to do in Southern Illinois."
St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern, who won re-election Tuesday, said Allegiant's return has already attracted much interest.
"We've already sold a lot of tickets here," Kern said. "And we look forward to selling a lot more."
Allegiant Air spokesman Carl Zablotny said the metro-east presents a strong market for the airline.
"It's a wonderful airport, it's got great direction, and we feel that this is the kind of service that we want to provide the residents with a convenient airport and low-cost flights," Zablotny said. "Especially keeping the costs down, that's what's going to make it stand out from St. Louis' airport. It's a wonderful feeling being here."
Two lucky winners whose names were drawn Wednesday afternoon in a ceremony inside the airport won two free airline ticket for a four-day trip to Orlando that took off from MidAmerica on Wednesday afternoon.
The first winner was O'Fallon resident Carol Manfucci, who was ecstatic when her name was drawn.
"I screamed," Manfucci said. "I was excited."
They other winner was Belleville resident Ted Farmer, who said he and his wife Virginia are not sure what they will do in Florida.
"I have not made up my mind, yet," Farmer said.
Virginia Farmer said she was thrilled to get an instant vacation.
"I was excited," she said. "We both had our names in and the first one was already drawn, and he said, 'Well, we have one more chance.'"
Contact reporter Will Buss at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2526.