Omaha Gets ExpressJet Service to West Coast

Omaha soon will have nonstop flights to California for the first time since 2001.

Although new brand ExpressJet hasn't announced its full schedule, two new destinations seem likely for Eppley, based on the most frequent destinations that still lack nonstop service: both San Diego and Ontario, in the Los Angeles area.

The airline -- which has its roots in Continental Airlines -- will begin flights between Omaha and San Diego, according to a Tuesday story in the Wall Street Journal.

ExpressJet will serve 24 cities across the country, none a major hub. Ontario, Calif., in the Los Angeles area, will be the new airline's busiest city, with flights to 14 cities, the Journal said.

The new airline's focus is connecting markets that don't have nonstop flights, said Kristy Nicholas, spokeswoman for the Houston-based ExpressJet. The company isn't releasing more details about the cities it will serve or the frequency of flights until Monday, she said. The airline will begin rolling out its service in April.

Ontario would be a likely candidate from Omaha, however, based on her description.

"A market that doesn't have good direct service or any service to Omaha today would be a likely candidate," she said.

On Eppley's most recent top 25 origin-and-destination survey -- a list of the most frequent cities that Omaha passengers are going to or arriving from -- San Diego ranked 11th. Ranked No. 3 was the Los Angeles metro area, which includes Ontario and four other airports, including Los Angeles International.

Don Smithey, executive director of the Omaha Airport Authority, which operates Eppley, said he was looking forward to ExpressJet's Monday announcement but couldn't comment on the details before then.

In the past, he has encouraged airlines to add nonstop flights to West Coast cities, including Ontario. Nonstop service there would draw some passengers to that airport who might have been flying from Omaha to other airports in the Los Angeles area, he said.

"You don't know how many. I'm certain they would, given a nonstop flight," he said.

Omaha hasn't had nonstop flights to the Los Angeles area since Midwest Airlines -- then Midwest Express -- ended service from Omaha in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Omaha is a perfect fit for ExpressJet's service, Nicholas said.

"It has a growing economy and an underserved market. It doesn't have great point-topoint service," she said. "ExpressJet hopes to bring that service to Omaha to save travelers time."

The time saving comes from cutting out the connections, she said.

The airline studied markets for three years.

ExpressJet has flown since 1996 as Continental Express, Nicholas said. When the mainline cut back its regional jet capacity by 25 percent a little more than a year ago, the separate company chose to expand as its own brand.

The airline will use 44 of the 50-seat Embraer regional jets cut from the Continental Express fleet. Another 15 are part of ExpressJet Corporate Aviation, Nicholas said.

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