There are tens of thousands of Belizeans living in the US - and most of them are concentrated in three major population centers: New York on the East Coast, Chicago in the Midwest and Los Angeles on the West Coast.

Well now all those Belizeans trying to escape the Windy City's wicked winters will have a direct flight, straight from O'hare to the PGIA.

United Airlines opened the route officially this Saturday which is when the first passengers flying directly from Chicago to Belize landed at the airport, and 7News there.

Daniel Ortiz has that story:

Daniel Ortiz reporting
United Airline Flight #1150 landed on Saturday, the first direct flight from Chicago to Belize, an opportunity in tourism for both the airline and Belize.

It's United's three hundred and seventy-fifth direct destination flight.

Tracey Taegar-Panton - CEO, Ministry of Tourism
"We are proud of the partnership we shared with United Airlines since its inaugural service to Belize in 1988. What a long way we have come. From a single flight out of its Houston hub to 2 and sometimes 4 daily flights from Houston, weekly service from Newark and now a weekly service from Chicago. This partnership has insured that the North American market continues to be the primary source market for the tourism sector with Houston being our busiest hub."

Indira Craig - Country Manager, United Airlines
"Chicago's O'Hare International with its 8 runways served some 67 million passengers, 885,000 aircrafts and moves some 1.4 million metric tons of cargo annually and is one of the world greatest ports of call recognized as North America's best airport on no less than 10 occasions. It is our hope that with this flight, United Airlines will not just open the friendly skies for Chicago's nearly 2.7 million residents, but connects seamlessly our very own diaspora of Belizean heritage and ancestry and create a new network option that will not just offer more to America's nearly 47 million tourists, but the world, as a global carrier making it yet another route to access and to see the splendor of our jewel."

Tracey Taegar-Panton - CEO, Ministry of Tourism
"Our US based carriers are responsible for bringing 70% of all overnight visitors to our mainland. On this momentous occasion it is important to note that since the beginning of 2004, we have seen a 9.2% growth in overnight visitors via our Philip Goldson International Airport and 7 additional flight for the high season."

Tapping into the US west coast is important for Tourism. It means expansion into a new market, and greater numbers for overnight tourism arrivals.

Tracey Taegar-Panton
"It opens the entire mid-west of the Unites States. We have the Eastern seaboard covered, but the mid-west is also a huge market for us and this will make travel to Belize more convenient."

United is also looking to the large Belizean Diaspora residing in Chicago.

Indira Craig
"Chicago is the 3rd largest city in the US and it has a big Belizean diaspora based and beyond the fact that we are looking at what that potential is for us to push because obviously my job is to feed that flight from here to there, so I am hoping to put a lot of Belizeans on that flight and so aspect for us is definitely looking at just the strength of the Belizean base that we have there. For sure, that's a big part of it. But there is also the big part of just giving a new gateway and the opportunity of what that means for us - the connections to the international destinations."

The first group of travelers flying from Belize to Chicago left shortly after the ceremony of the inaugural flight.

Channel 7