Leisure travelers in Eastern Iowa will now have another destination option when flying out of the airport in Cedar Rapids. Allegiant Air on Wednesday launched twice-weekly direct flights to Punta Gorda-Fort Myers in southwest Florida.
For the Las Vegas-based airline, it is the fifth nonstop destination from The Eastern Iowa Airport. Allegiant also flies directly to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Orlando and Tampa Bay.
"Punta Gorda has really grown in popularity," said Micah Lillard of Allegiant Travel Co., corporate parent of Allegiant Air. "We've seen a great demand for Florida destinations from Cedar Rapids and the whole Midwest. The smaller Midwest communities have really been the 'bread and butter' of the Allegiant business model."
Lillard said Allegiant is confident that Punta Gorda will be a strong destination for travelers from Eastern Iowa.
"Flying into southwest Florida offers a lot of opportunities for leisure travelers," he said. "The airport offers a closer proximity to Sarasota and other communities in that part of the state."
Passengers arriving on the inaugural flight at 1:05 p.m. were given souvenir ice scrappers by airport representatives and departing passengers on the 1:45 p.m. flight to Punta Gorda received cookies and sunglasses.
Tim Bradshaw, director of The Eastern Iowa Airport, said Punta Gorda has been a desired destination for travelers using the regional airport.
"Our communities have been asking for this flight for quite a while," Bradshaw said. "It offers a great vacation spot and is a second home to many Corridor residents."
Sandra Smith of West Liberty was a passenger on Wednesday's inaugural flight to Punta Gorda.
"I was probably one of the first ones who had a reservation for this flight," Smith said. "I'm actually going to be renting a car and driving to Miami because I'm going to be down there for 18 days. It's a good flight and I got it this summer at a really good price."
For Darlus Bader of Dysart, the direct flight to Punta Gorda will mean flying from Cedar Rapids instead of the Quad Cities International Airport in Moline.
"I'm going to Estero, which is about 40 miles away from Punta Gorda," Bader said. "A lot of times, I've had to fly to Atlanta or Chicago and then take another plane. This will be much more convenient and I won't have to go through a large airport."
Lillard said Allegiant will continue to look at adding more Florida destinations, including Fort Lauderdale. He said Allegiant targets smaller airports because its customers prefer to skip "hub" airports like Chicago, St. Louis or Minneapolis."It's a model that has worked very well for Allegiant," Lillard said.