In 2005, economic boosters targeted Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver as the top three markets they'd like to see with nonstop service directly into Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
Two years later, they're two for three.
Los Angeles service began last June on Delta Airlines. On Tuesday, United Airlines announced plans to offer one flight daily between RDU and Denver beginning April 24.
"We're still working on San Francisco," said Charles Hayes, president and CEO of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership, an economic development group covering 13 counties.
Already, about 400 passengers a day travel between RDU and Denver, using connecting flights.
The direct flights will benefit those travelers, plus people headed for other West Coast destinations, Hayes said.
"This is a big deal because the West Coast is where the business community wants and needs to fly," he said.
The change will also help make the area more marketable to businesses looking to relocate, he said.
"With companies we're trying to recruit in ... we frequently get questions about where do the airplanes fly and how often do they fly there," he said.
The Denver service will bring the number of nonstop destinations from RDU to 39.
It's the second time the airport has tried nonstop service to Denver. Now-defunct carrier Midway Airlines offered nonstop flights for nine months, but Midway folded as part of the airline industry's economic fallout from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Since then, it's been hard to convince a carrier to take the risk, said Teresa Damiano, director of marketing for the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority.
"I think airlines are just getting back to the point where they're expanding service," she said. "We've seen that especially in destinations that are further away."
It's hard to say whether the direct flight will be cheaper, said Al Baldy, executive vice president of Raleigh's Maupin Travel.
But business travelers will save money because they're saving time, he said.
"Typically there would be a minimum of one hour for a connection, and it could be two or three hours," Baldy said. "If you're not at your business location talking face-to-face with a customer, you're not on the clock."
Beginning April 24, United Airlines will have one flight daily between the Triangle and Denver. Here are the scheduled flight times.
- RDU to Denver (United 561): departs 4:52 p.m., arrives 6:49 p.m.
- Denver to RDU (United 802): departs 10:42 a.m., arrives 4:15 p.m.
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