Expressjet Details Its Flight Plans

ExpressJet, the airline making a major push to fly passengers to smaller cities, Thursday listed on its Web site all 14 destinations it will fly to and from LA/Ontario International Airport.

The flights include the only nonstop service into all of Southern California for Omaha, Neb., and Tulsa, Okla.

Nonstop flights to and from Austin, Texas; Boise, Idaho; Kansas City, Kan.; Omaha; San Antonio; Spokane, Wash.; and Tucson, Ariz., are scheduled to start April 2. Flights to Albuquerque, N.M.; Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla. start April 16. Flights to Colorado Springs, Colo., and Fresno start April 30 and flights to El Paso, Texas, and Monterey start May 16.

"For years, we've had difficulty getting the airlines to understand the market out here," said Brian McGowan, San Bernardino County's Economic Development Agency administrator. "It sends an important signal to the airlines that Ontario is a viable airport."

McGowan said his agency had worked with ExpressJet for a couple of months to recruit and train the 200 employees the airline will need for its Ontario operations. The airline's arrival will also make it easier for the agency to pitch the region as potential regional headquarters for industries.

"There's been one more wall taken down," he said. "We're not some peripheral airport anymore; we're increasingly becoming the center of the new economy in Southern California."

Don Smithey, executive director of the Omaha Airport Authority, said about 40,000 travelers a year currently come and go between Omaha and Ontario through connecting flights. About 92,000 travel to and from Los Angeles, making it Omaha's third most popular destination despite the lack of nonstop routes since 2001.

"There's a big void in that market area, so this is certainly a great thing for us," he said. "It's certainly a great alternative to LAX."

Smithey said ExpressJet's strategy could help travelers avoid delays the likes of which shut down Denver International Airport's operations for an extended period because the planes avoid the hubs.

"As you go point to point, all your assets aren't tied up in a weather disaster," he said.

Sue Tanzman, a travel agent with Martin's Travel and Tours in Los Angeles, said the additional small-jet flights will help relieve traffic at LAX and give travelers more options.

"The more often we can have lift out of smaller airports, the less congestion you're going to have in your larger airports. It will make it better for everyone," Tanzman said. "As long as the fares are competitive, it will remain sustainable."

Norco resident Joe Iorio doesn't travel much by air, but when he does fly to Austin once a year to visit family, he usually endures a layover in Phoenix.

"It's almost as much layover as flight time," and LAX was an unworthy option, Iorio said. "For 29 years I drove to Los Angeles and I said unless I absolutely have to I'm not going back."

News that ExpressJet would fly direct between Ontario and Austin had Iorio ready to ditch Southwest, even if he had to pay 10 percent to 20 percent more for a direct flight.

"It'd be worth the time, if nothing more, to me," he said.

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