SUMMARY: By fall, 9 flights will jet directly from PDX across the country every day
"Those East Coast flights are a pretty grueling experience, and we're doing it so much --especially for high-level people --that it becomes a question of the cost of their time." -- Michael Burke,
Adidas' corporate travel manager
It's getting a whole lot easier for Modesty McNally to fly from Portland to see her beloved Boston Red Sox.
In response to corporate desire and consumer demand, airlines this year are more than doubling daily nonstop flights from Portland International Airport to East Coast destinations.
In early April, four such nonstops flew. By September, the number will stand at nine, testifying to a business case made by Adidas, Nike and other companies and increasing airline interest in PDX, the country's 35th-largest airport with about 14 million passengers annually.
Airlines are looking to cash in on PDX's busy summer travel season, when the concourse sees 50 percent more passengers than in the slow months of January and February. US Airways cut its daily Philadelphia nonstop to four days a week during the winter and plans its new, second daily such flight for summers only.
Administrators at the Port of Portland, which operates the airport, say the nine nonstops to the East Coast are believed to be the most ever.
The sixth East Coast nonstop, a US Airways flight to Charlotte, N.C., is scheduled to begin Monday. In addition to one flight to Boston and three to New York-area destinations, the Portland-East Coast nonstops will include the two to Philadelphia and one each to Washington, D.C., and Orlando, Fla.
Airfares are impossible to predict because they vary as often as several times of day. As a rule, red-eye flights are cheaper than daytime trips.
Red Sox fan McNally, 32, is looking forward to September, when Alaska Airlines will debut daily nonstop service to Boston --the first such connection since Delta Air Lines pulled out in 1999.
"Awesome," said McNally, minutes before boarding a recent red-eye connecting through Atlanta to visit New England relatives and see a Red Sox game. "Awesome."
Portland-area businesses, some of which have lobbied airlines for increased East Coast service for years, also welcome better connections.
At Adidas AG, executives have been seeking a faster way to travel between the company's U.S. headquarters in Portland and the corporate offices near Boston of Reebok International Ltd., the shoemaker Adidas bought in 2006.
Michael Burke, Adidas' corporate travel manager, said, "We literally talked to every carrier" in hopes of starting the Boston service, even inviting executives from Alaska Airlines to visit the Adidas campus to project how many hundreds of seats the company could fill annually.
"Those East Coast flights are a pretty grueling experience, and we're doing it so much --especially for high-level people --that it becomes a question of the cost of their time," Burke said.
Nonstops shave one to five hours off trips in each direction and can be crucial in avoiding cold-weather delays in hubs such as Denver and Chicago.
At the same time that Adidas was making its case for Boston to Alaska and other carriers, its rival Nike was doing the same. Ted Cullen, Nike's travel director, said the Beaverton-area company needed to better reach three New England subsidiaries within the Boston area --Converse, Cole Haan and Nike Bauer Hockey.
Demand takes off
Though corporations only begin to fill a flight, their influence can be substantial: Wieden+Kennedy, the Portland-based international advertising firm, spends about $7 million annually on airfare for its 750 employees.
John MacLeod, Alaska's managing director of planning and alliances, said it became clear over the last year that "we've got a lot of customers who want that Boston service."
Alaska's decision, he said, was partly based on the business case made by big corporations and partly to serve what airlines call "VFR" (visiting friends and relatives) traffic.
Business travelers tend to pay more per ticket than those on vacation or visiting, but MacLeod said the majority of passengers on the new flights will be leisure travelers.
Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Port of Portland, said the agency worked hard last year to persuade carriers to expand service to a handful of domestic and international destinations, including those on the East Coast.
"We've taken the position that we need to provide carriers with the business case for new service," Wyatt said.
Of the roughly 14 million passengers who used the airport last year, nearly 750,000 chose seven East Coast cities as their destination.
Joe Murray, vice president of River City Travel in Portland, said the new nonstops offer an interesting mix for business and leisure travelers, including expanded European and Caribbean connections through US Airways' hubs in Philadelphia and Charlotte.
Night flights common
Five of the nine eventual flights involve red-eye departures from Portland. Airlines frequently schedule such service because it allows them to enter a market at relatively low cost. They can use planes that otherwise would just be sitting on the ground instead of buying new ones.
Despite saving a day of travel and typically finding a lower fare, business travelers generally shun red-eyes.
"That's just not something we enjoy doing," said Colleen Baker, global travel director for Wieden+Kennedy. "We're really hoping to see more daytime flights to New York."
Of three nonstop flights available from Portland to the New York area, only Continental Airlines offers a daytime departure, to Newark, N.J.
Overnight flights also can leave vacationers and their kids bleary-eyed and cranky.
"That Orlando red-eye is pretty tough, because that's a leisure destination," said Murray of River City Travel. "In terms of taking the kids, there's a positive and a negative: You get there in the morning and hit the ground running, but you can't check into your hotel until the afternoon."
Leisure fliers, however, like the savings that red-eyes generally offer.
Sean Logan, 20, an Oregon State University student who booked Delta's red-eye to John F. Kennedy International Airport this month before a connecting flight to Boston, said the red-eye offers another advantage over daytime flights.
"I feel like if I leave in the morning, I lose a day of travel," Logan said.
Alex Pulaski, 503-221-8516;
ILLUSTRATION: Graphic -- Sidebar text by The Oregonian / STEVE COWDEN -- SHAVING HOURS OFF OF FLIGHT TIMES; RED-EYE VS. DAYLIGHT PDX DEPARTURES
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