Fly Topeka? Lawrence residents soon will have two nearby options for travel

Topeka Regional Airport, located at Forbes Field, will begin offering two commercial flights a day to Chicago on Jan. 7, 2014.

Need to fly to Chicago or beyond? Lawrence residents soon will have an alternative to Kansas City International Airport: Topeka Regional Airport.

Locals say the convenience of the smaller airport is enticing but — being roughly halfway between the two — choosing Topeka over Kansas City will come down to whether flight times fit with their travel plans.

Beginning Jan. 7, United Express 50-passenger regional jets are scheduled to depart for Chicago O’Hare at 6 a.m. and 2:54 p.m. daily from Topeka Regional Airport, located at Forbes Field in southeast Topeka. Tickets cost the same as United flights from Kansas City, according to fares listed Friday on United’s website (leaving Jan. 11, you’d pay $200 round trip for a week or $261 for the weekend).

“That’s a good thing for both Lawrence and Topeka, and the surrounding communities,” said John Novotny of Travellers Inc., 831 Massachusetts St. “Any time there are more choices, that’s a plus for the consumer.”

Topeka is pitching its new offering, the airport’s first commercial service in years, as an easy-in, easy-out alternative to busy Kansas City International. Business travelers, vacationers and Kansas University professors and students are among Lawrence residents that Topeka wants to attract, said Eric Johnson, Metropolitan Topeka Airport Authority president and director of airports.

Topeka Regional Airport, located at Forbes Field, will begin offering two commercial flights a day to Chicago on Jan. 7, 2014. In preparation for its first commercial fights in a number of years, the airport underwent remodeling, with blue replacing the old burnt-orange color scheme.

“It’s easier to get here than Kansas City International, our fares are very comparable to what you’ll find in Kansas City, and our parking is $5 for as long as you’re here,” Johnson said.

Compared with airports in most large cities, Kansas City’s is beloved by travelers for its accessibility. Compared with a small-town airport, though, lines are longer and parking more expensive — $22 a day for garage parking or $7 a day for economy parking, which is located in satellite lots accessible only by shuttle bus.

From downtown Lawrence, online maps list drive times at about 35 minutes to Topeka Regional or just under 50 minutes to Kansas City International. In Topeka, parking is just across a couple lanes of traffic from the newly remodeled terminal. And with one 50-passenger plane leaving at a time, travelers should never face long lines, Johnson said.

As vice president of sales for food service at Berry Plastics, Lawrence resident John Landgrebe travels about three times a month to various parts of the country.

Landgrebe, who schedules flight times around business meetings, said Kansas City would be hard to top. Even though parking is more expensive, he finds the drive easy and likes having many flights and airlines to choose from.

“If the cost of flying made sense and the route times made sense, I’d consider using Topeka vs. KCI — timing of flights being the most important factor,” Landgrebe said.

Flying from Topeka could be a good fit for Lawrence residents spending a weekend in the Windy City or traveling internationally, said Dave Bonnel, agency manager at Travel Leaders, 4104 W. Sixth St. An early flight to Chicago on Saturday and a late flight home on Sunday would give weekenders two full days, Bonnel said. He said Topeka’s flight times also aligned well with connecting overnight flights to and from Europe.

Lack of options if a flight were canceled could be a downside, Bonnel said, but the small-airport convenience factor is an upside.

“It should be easy in and easy out,” he said. “It should be very quick access.”

For more information on Topeka Regional Airport or to book flights, go online to mtaa-topeka.org.