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Joplin Drops American for United, Favoring Chicago Opportunity

United Express Bombardier CRJ-200 aircraft (Photo: Quintin Soloviev (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

For the first time in a decade, the service provider at Joplin Regional Airport in Joplin, Missouri will change hands. The route, which is current serviced by American Airlines and its regional partners, will be dropped on June 1 as the Essential Air Service contract was up for renewal.

American had made a bid to remain in the city, offering a similar route pairing of Joplin to Dallas-DFW and Joplin to Chicago O’Hare, but at the increased cost of $1.5 million for 2021. American had not operated the flight to Chicago since the arrival of COVID-19 and planned to limit operations to just 12 flights a week between Dallas and Joplin. The Chicago route had started in 2019 on a $600,000 revenue guarantee, but the airline claims those funds were used up by the time March 2020 rolled around. The lone remaining flight is operated by Embraer ERJ-140s on the Dallas route.

Replacing the Dallas-going flights will be SkyWest Airlines, which will operate under the United Express banner. The airline’s Essential Air Service contract will consist of three years of payments consisting of $1.2 million in 2021, $795,000 in 2022 and $498,000 in 2023. In exchange, the airline will reestablish flights to Chicago O’Hare and start operations to Denver. All flights will use the Bombardier CRJ-200.

For Joplin, the change comes after a decade of stability under American. The airline had operated a mix of Executive ATR-72s, larger Mesa CRJs, and Envoy ERJ-140s and ERJ-170s to the city since taking over the EAS contract in 2010.

Prior to that, the city was in a state of changing partners. American had departed the city in 2006 following the dismantling of the St. Louis hub and flights on Trans States equipment were dropped. Air Midwest had offered quick jumps to Kansas City for a few years as US Airways Express, before they themselves collapsed in the recession of 2008. The bridge to Dallas would start after Air Midwest vacated the airport, with Great Lakes Aviation starting Dallas-DFW to Joplin flights on Beechcraft model aircraft.

The start of American operations from Great Lakes in 2010 saw a rapid change in passenger counts. American’s 2011 passenger figures would jump the airport from 3,769 departures in 2010 to 26.9 thousand departures in 2011, according to the Department of Transportation Statistics. Before COVID-19, the airline had grown the destination further with 2019 ballooning at over 48 thousand travelers departing from the southwest Missouri airfield.

City chamber president Toby Teeter commented on the service change, saying, “returning to dual hub status is important for our business community. Direct flights to both Denver and Chicago gives us better connections to the East Coast, the West Coast and even to Europe. Dozens of large-scale employers raised funds to bring the Chicago air service to Joplin two years ago. It will be nice to have that direct connection return to the Joplin Regional Airport. Also, the new United/Skywest contract better positions Joplin for a third hub once our flight traffic supports the demand for it.”

SkyWest mentioned that a return to Texas could be possible if the Joplin market is successful, with flights to Houston-Intercontinental providing a third destination for the city.

Ian McMurtry


  • Ian McMurtry

    Although Ian McMurtry was never originally an avgeek, he did enjoy watching US Airways aircraft across western Pennsylvania in the early 2000s. He lived along the Pennsylvania Railroad and took a liking to trains but a change of scenery in the mid-2000s saw him shift more of an interest into aviation. He would eventually express this passion by taking flying lessons in mid-Missouri and joining AirlineGeeks in 2013. Now living in Wichita, Kansas, Ian is in college majoring in aerospace engineering and minoring in business administration at Wichita State University.

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