A business alliance with Air France was the key reason why Delta Air Lines chose Paris to be the first transatlantic route ever offered by an airline from Salt Lake City, Delta President Ed Bastian said Thursday.
"Paris is the best shot that this community has for direct service because of all the connections and support that Air France can provide," Bastian said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. He explained that other cities Delta flies to in Europe, such as London and Frankfurt, don't provide the number of connections to other destinations that Paris does.
Bastian was in Salt Lake City to announce that Delta will begin daily nonstop service to Charles de Gaulle International Airport on June 2, using a widebody Boeing 767-300ER that seats up to 214 passengers. He prefaced the announcement by paying homage to six miners trapped in the Crandall Canyon coal mine and the rescuers who tried to dig them out.
"We have a strong relationship with the people of this state, and I know I speak for the people of Delta when I say we have had you in our prayers and thoughts over the past weeks," said Bastian, who was named Delta's president earlier this week.
The route announcement, which came at a news conference at the Grand America Hotel, was greeted with cheers and applause from dozens of Delta workers based at the carrier's Salt Lake City International Airport hub, business people and politicians.
"It offers us great opportunities for travel, both as employees and the customers around the Utah area. I look forward to being able to get on a direct flight and ride up the Eiffel Tower," pilot Steve Carey said.
Bastian said Delta preferred Paris to Frankfurt or Rome because it can feed passengers into Air France's network of daily flights from the French capital to more than 100 destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. No other European airport offers as many destinations, he said.
That was important because Delta believes most business and leisure passengers flying overnight from Salt Lake into Paris will continue on to other cities.
"We have expectations that there will be some strong beyond-Paris influence, so having your [Air France] partner hub that we are connecting to is the principal driver" for choosing Charles de Gaulle, Bastian said.
Flights will leave Salt Lake City each day at 5 p.m. and arrive the next day at 11:05 a.m. for a total flying time of 10 hours and 5 minutes. Return flights will depart Paris at 10:20 a.m. and arrive 11 1/2 hours later in Salt Lake, at 1:50 p.m. East-to-west flights take longer because the $100 million jet will buck headwinds on the way back.
Delta predicts that the new route will produce an annual impact of $150 million to the state. Besides passengers, the jet is capable of carrying up to five tons of cargo in each direction. From Paris, the top shipments are expected to be cosmetics, French fashion garments and wine. Utah's chief exports will be machine parts, computers and information technology equipment.
"This is a day that we have been waiting for for years," Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said.
Anderson, a Democrat whose relationship with the Utah Legislature has been strained since he was first elected mayor in 1999, praised Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, who helped build a $1.9 million financial package for Delta. The total includes contributions from the Governor's Office of Economic Development, Salt Lake City International Airport and the Utah Office of Tourism.
"You don't hear me say a lot of really nice things about our Republican Legislature, but this time they were amazing, and President Valentine . . . is a remarkable leader there," Anderson said. "He gets things done."
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said the trans-Atlantic route will plug Salt Lake City deeper into the global economy.
"There is something different about a state and city that has a direct link across the Atlantic or Pacific. It is a huge deal," said Huntsman, who hopes Delta will one day fly from Salt Lake City to Asia.
* Delta is offering a one-way promotional fare of $499, based on a round-trip ticket. It is available until Sept. 6.