By MAI HOANG
When Marquita Akdag last flew to Salt Lake City, she had to make stops in Seattle and Boise, Idaho, where she stayed overnight because she had missed her connecting flight.
But she was free of those hassles Thursday when she boarded the inaugural Delta Air Lines flight from Yakima to Salt Lake City.
"I'm not a plane person," she said. "But the easier they make it, the more I feel OK with it."
The 50-seat CRJ-200 jet took off from Yakima Air Terminal 30 minutes late, but otherwise the flight went without a hitch for the 45 passengers.
Many said they liked the convenience of eastbound flights to Salt Lake City, from where Delta flies nonstop to 112 destinations.
The first flight out of Yakima was 90 percent full, said Bill Wheeler, airport board chairman, during a news conference Thursday. Those strong numbers were a positive affirmation for Wheeler and other government and business leaders who spent years pursuing the Atlanta-based air carrier. The Yakima Valley has been without a second air carrier since United Express pulled service in 2001.
Many have said the new service will help stimulate economic development, but for others, the additional air service will make it easier for residents to visit family, care for sick friends or, in Chelsea Smart's case, start a new phase in life.
After graduating from Brigham Young University, the 25-year-old Smart returned to Yakima to prepare for her move to Washington D.C., where she wants to work for a nonprofit.
Smart planned on leaving town sooner on a flight with Horizon Air. But when she heard about the eastbound flights, she decided to move back her plans and fly with Delta instead.
She spent $169 for a one-way ticket from Yakima to Washington, D.C.
The move was difficult for Smart's mother, Sheila, whose eyes watered as she watched her daughter go through airport security.
But she said she planned on using the new air service to visit Chelsea and her other daughters, who live in Utah and Massachusetts.
"Our family is going to single-handedly keep Delta in Yakima," Chelsea Smart joked.
Now that business and government leaders have received the service, the efforts will turn to keeping the service.
Businesses and organizations already have contributed more than $455,000 toward prepaid travel tickets, in addition to $150,000 for marketing the new service.
Tom and Bernadine Bracewell hope the service sticks around.
The couple was heading to St. Louis to visit a cousin they haven't seen in more than two decades. They had often driven to Seattle or Pasco for air service and liked the ease of just one stop to their destination.
"With our credit card, we earn Delta frequent flier miles," Bernadine Bracewell said. "This works out great."
Mai Hoang can be reached at 577-7685 or email@example.com
Taking off on Delta
Delta's service in Yakima includes daily outbound flights to Salt Lake City departing at 6:30 a.m. and 12:01 p.m.
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