ONTARIO - The Inland Empire just got a little closer to Hawaii, as the first nonstop flight from Ontario International Airport to Honolulu since 2004 took off Friday.
Officials hope the one flight offered each day by ATA Airlines will be another step toward turning ONT into a destination airport for Southern California travelers.
``We're thrilled to have ATA in town with us,'' said Ontario Mayor Paul Leon. ``We can't wait to see these flights full, and we can't wait to see (the airline) add more.''
ATA will be codesharing with Southwest Airlines, meaning the flights can be booked through either airline and will operate out of Southwest's gates.
``We expect this to be a very profitable venture for both of them,'' said Kim Ellis, the airport's acting manager. Southwest is ONT's largest carrier.
Hawaiian Airlines once operated daily, nonstop service from ONT to Maui, beginning in 2002. But the flights were stopped more than two years ago due to low demand.
Since then, airlines including Southwest, America West and US Airways have flown from ONT to Hawaii. But those flights were not direct, and included stops in Denver, Oakland, Phoenix or elsewhere.
For the inaugural flight, which departed at 7:05 a.m., the airport offered passengers breakfast as well as seashell necklaces and flip-flops emblazoned with the logo of Los Angeles World Airports.
Among the travelers were Bob and Alicia Wood, who heard about the new service through an e-mail from the airline.
The promotional fare offered was so inexpensive, Alicia Wood said, that she and her husband decided to book a three-day jaunt to Oahu.
``We've never flown ATA before, but my mother has,'' she said. ``She loved it.''
Several new flights have been added at ONT in recent months, including service to cities in Mexico by airlines Azteca and Aeromexico. Also, shipping company UPS has added more flights to China.
That's a turnaround from the first few years after the 2001 terrorist attacks, when airlines canceled flights from ONT to Denver, San Francisco, New York City and Hermosillo, Mexico.
Since then, passenger traffic at ONT has set records, surpassing 7.2 million travelers last year. Regional planners hope the airport will one day be the second-busiest in Southern California, serving 30 million passengers by the year 2030.
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Two years after Hawaiian Airlines left Ontario International Airport, another airline plans to restore service to the resort islands.
Though 2005 was a record-setting year for Ontario International Airport, the air field still lags behind others in Southern California in its pace of growth.
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