Less than a week after announcing the return of direct flights to Orlando, Charlottesville Albemarle Airport has announced the return of direct Philadelphia flights as well.
The return of nonstop service to Chicago may also be in the offing, after tickets were spotted online. Airport officials, however, have said it is too early to report “final confirmation.”
What officials could confirm on Monday was that American Airlines will begin offering direct flights between Charlottesville and Philadelphia on April 4. American had previously cut off the service in November 2021.
“Philadelphia has historically been a great connection,” airport Chief Operating Officer Jason Burch told the Daily Progress. “So to see it return now with American after about a year and a half, we feel like it’s a complement to what they’re already providing.”
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American currently provides CHO with service to Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina and LaGuardia Airport in New York. The carrier had previously offered Charlottesville a pair of daily round trips to Philadelphia, but that was cut due to the shortage of planes and pilots during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As it makes headway overcoming that shortage, American will begin offering a single round trip to Philadelphia each day.
“We’re working with airlines in a different world really,” said Burch. “We know the aircraft are sitting on the ground because they don’t have pilots. So to get that return to service is huge for us.”
While Amtrak offers passenger rail service to downtown Philadelphia for as little as $48 round trip, a round-trip flight to PHL can cost as much as $479.
Burch said that’s not the point; it’s the chance for a smooth connection to evening flights to Europe.
“The reason for the Philly-CHO connection has always been to tie into those international connections,” said Burch.
When American begins Philadelphia service on April 4, the northbound flight will be scheduled to leave CHO at 5:54 p.m. The southbound flights will leave PHL at 3:30 p.m.
One other return to the pre-pandemic days at CHO: Delta Air Lines plans to bring back a Boeing 717 for service to Atlanta starting on March 9. Seating over 100 passengers, the 717 was the largest airplane making scheduled service in Charlottesville until last week’s announcement that 737s would be handling CHO-to-Orlando service for discount carrier Avelo.
Also on the horizon: United Airlines has started selling tickets on nonstop flights between CHO and Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport starting Aug. 17.
Burch did confirm that tickets are being sold but said he still views the service as an aspiration for an airline that held on seven months past American dropped Philadelphia service before dropping its two Chicago round trips in June 2022 – when the pilot shortage reached critical levels.
“Until we have the final confirmation, we won’t be able to report on it,” said Burch. “They made it clear to us they saw that flight to Chicago as a suspension, not a deletion, and so they are determined to get it back.”
While the return of direct flights to Chicago’s ORD will be welcome news to Charlottesvillians who had grown accustomed to visiting the Windy City or making connections to the Northwest, Burch said there’s a reason the airport hadn’t announced it yet.
“We just understand that schedules are subject to change that far out,” said Burch.
According to its most recent annual report posted online, revenue at CHO fell from $8.8 million in 2019 to $4.1 million in 2021, with parking revenue amounting to about half of that total number.
Burch said traffic has rebounded about 75% from the peak of the pandemic.
“The airplanes that the airlines are bringing in are being filled,” said Burch. “Everything we do now will be based on the demand of a route. Philly will be successful if our community uses it. Chicago will be returning and be successful if our community responds to it. Avelo to Orlando will only be successful only if people get on the plane and go to Orlando.”