The West Coast is going to seem a little closer this summer.
Delta Air Lines said Wednesday it will offer one daily nonstop round trip flight between Los Angeles and Raleigh-Durham International Airport starting in June.
It's the first time a major carrier with tens of thousands of loyal frequent fliers has offered service to the West Coast. The local travel industry was enthusiastic about the announcement.
"We'll book a heck of a lot of people on this flight," said John Lewis, co-owner of Travel Management Partners in Raleigh, one of the country's largest travel agencies.
Los Angeles is popular with leisure travelers who want to take in sights such as Rodeo Drive, said RDU spokeswoman Jill Denning. But there's also a lot of business trips -- including movie-related travel -- between the two regions.
A panel of Triangle leaders several years ago identified nonstop flights to the West Coast as one of the area's biggest needs for recruiting new industry. But airlines, in a financial tailspin since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, have been reluctant to add flights.
A year ago, RDU officials led by marketing director Teresa Damiano and the Research Triangle Regional Partnership intensified efforts to change that. They contacted every mid-size and large company within a 100-mile radius and urged executives to lobby airlines for the flights. A separate consultant's study showed 377,000 people traveled between the Triangle airport and Los Angeles in 2004.
"The research showed Los Angeles was one of the top markets" for local travelers, said partnership president and CEO Charles Hayes "The population is young, affluent, and they take trips."
Nonstop service to the West Coast has been tried before. Midway Airlines, the defunct regional carrier, twice offered nonstop flights to Los Angeles.
The first time, in the 1990s, the flight was nonstop only on the way to Los Angeles, and stopped in Las Vegas on the return trip. It was canceled after a management change. The airline tried again in 2001, but went into bankruptcy soon after.
Delta, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September, is restructuring to include more point-to-point flights between profitable markets. RDU to Los Angeles fits that description, said Delta spokesman Anthony Black.
"We believe our customers' travel demand is strong enough to support this nonstop route," Black said.
Triangle companies such as Reichhold Chemicals, IBM and Quintiles Transnational that already make frequent trips to Los Angeles will prefer the new flight over waiting at a connecting airport, Lewis of Travel Management Partners said.
"It may not be everyone's desire to have a red-eye flight back to RDU, but you'll still be able to work an entire day, have dinner with a client or associate and depart Los Angeles at 10:30," Lewis said. "I may even take the flight myself."
Beginning June 8, Delta will fly one daily nonstop round trip from RDU to Los Angeles International. The flight will run Sunday through Friday.
Flight 301 will depart RDU at 6:55 p.m. and arrive at LA International 9:25 p.m. A return flight leaves LAX at 10:30 p.m., and arrives at RDU at 6 a.m.
The cheapest round-trip coach seat is priced at $218 on Travelocity. The lowest fare on Southwest Airlines, the nation's most successful low-fare airline, is $248 and requires a connection. Delta will use a 150-seat Boeing 737 for the flight.
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Facing higher fuel costs, the carrier decided it would be more efficient to route RDU passengers to Los Angeles through its hubs in Atlanta, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City.
Already, about 400 passengers a day travel between RDU and Denver, using connecting flights.
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