Raleigh-Durham International Airport is getting a new airline and a new nonstop destination.
The deal: ExpressJet Airlines of Houston plans to announce Monday that it will begin flying at least two daily round trips to Kansas City from RDU. The flights will begin in April.
Ticket prices: No word yet on fares, but expect market rates. Currently the cheapest ticket from RDU to Kansas City is a $191 round-trip Northwest flight. It stops in Detroit and takes five hours.
ExpressJet passengers will get free snacks, sandwiches and cold pasta dishes. The plane's leather seats will come with satellite radio.
What ExpressJet is: A regional airline that is owned by ExpressJet Holdings. It was spun off from Continental Airlines in 2002 and has been providing commuter feeder service for the larger airline. Now it will fly regionally under its own name, using 44 jets, all 50-seat Embraers.
The strategy: ExpressJet will serve 24 smaller cities that the major airlines don't, and offer point-to-point flying as does Southwest Airlines. It will avoid hubs, which can be a hassle for time-pressed travelers.
Why only Kansas City: There is considerable agribusiness travel between the two areas. Bayer CropScience has its U.S. headquarters at RTP and a manufacturing facility in Kansas City, and N.C. State University researchers frequently fly to Kansas City for meetings, RDU spokeswoman Mindy Hamlin said.
Kansas City is the 30th most popular destination for Triangle travelers, with 96,640 passengers flying between the two airports in 2005, according to the latest numbers from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
More destinations could be added, said ExpressJet's spokeswoman, Kristy Nicholas.
Previous tries: Southwest Airlines briefly offered a daily round trip to Kansas City from RDU in 2000 but discontinued the flight after about a year.
Dulles, Va.-based Independence Air, which also relied on a fleet of 50-seat regional jets, went out of business a year ago. But that was a low-cost airline.
Aviation consultant Mike Boyd predicts it will be difficult for ExpressJet to win passengers: "They want to get the droolings left by other airlines and it will be hard to do. People will say, 'Where can I get my Delta miles?' "
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But judging by the paucity of passengers on the first day's flights, the two-month-old airline has some marketing hurdles.
Newest carrier at Raleigh-Durham International Airport is built on abandoned routes
By comparison Southwest Airlines, currently the largest airline at the Ontario Airport with 56 daily flights, serves six cities nonstop.
Nicholas said she could not comment on what cities ExpressJet will offer nonstop service to, but she said the airline will start selling tickets Thursday.