Monday, September 14, 2020 / by Ken Couture
After years of trying, Richmond International Airport is finally getting some flights to the U.S. West Coast.
JetBlue Airways announced Thursday morning that it will start offering daily, nonstop flights to Los Angeles and Las Vegas from Richmond International Airport starting Dec. 18.
The airline also will offer a daily, nonstop flight to Tampa, Fla., starting Nov. 19.
Richmond International Airport officials described the announcement as “historic” because the airport has been trying for years to get West Coast flights as a convenience for business and leisure travel to and from the region.
“This is huge because we have a number of organizations in our community that have been seeking this kind of route for some time,” said Perry J. Miller, president and chief executive officer of the Capital Region Airport Commission.
The most westerly flight now offered from Richmond International is to Denver. In April 2016, United Airlines started the Richmond-to-Denver service.
Southwest Airlines also started a flight from Norfolk International Airport to San Diego International Airport in 2019.
Miller said the new service could also help the airport prevent some of the “leakage” it suffers because of local travelers going elsewhere to catch direct flights to the western U.S. “I think this is a great opportunity for those who would otherwise have to drive to another airport,” he said.
The announcement comes as business travel and international travel have been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. JetBlue is focusing on expanding service in the leisure travel market, which is showing signs of recovery.
“Seven months ago, this would not have happened,” said George Hoffer, a transportation economist and professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Everybody was going full-blast and they could not get enough planes. Then, of course, everything turned around and now the leisure market has come back much better than the business [travel] market.”
The success of the Richmond-to-Denver service “showed there is a market for going non-stop from Richmond to the West,” Hoffer said. “Now you have got the planes and the personnel and there is a vacuum out there for getting beyond the Rockies. They [JetBlue] are taking advantage of it. There is virtually no chance that anybody else will enter this market.”
In June, JetBlue announced it would add 30 new domestic routes to serve customers in markets where leisure travel and “visiting friends and relatives” travel is showing some signs of strength.
“I think the airlines are realizing that this is an extremely competitive environment,” Miller said. “COVID-19 has created a new frenzy for airlines looking at where can they go next.”
JetBlue will use the Airbus A320 aircraft — which seats 162 passengers — for the West Coast flights.
The new Richmond service announcements were part of a larger JetBlue initiative introducing 24 new routes. That includes five new destinations from Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina.
“This is the latest example of JetBlue’s ability to be nimble and play offense as we quickly adjust to new customer behaviors and booking patterns,” said Scott Laurence, head of revenue and planning for JetBlue, in a statement. “This latest series of new routes — even in the current environment — advances our revised network strategy, returns more aircraft to the skies and doubles down on our ability to generate more cash sooner.”
The JetBlue routes could help Richmond become a more attractive location for companies as well as people who work remotely but still need to fly to the West Coast, said Brian Anderson, president and chief executive officer of ChamberRVA, a regional business organization.
“We need to support that route and see how it can play into business travel as well as leisure travel,” Anderson said.
The new flights are welcome news for the staff at Temperpack, a Richmond-based packaging company that has a factory in Las Vegas.
“We have three or four people traveling there every month, and this will be a great way to save time on those trips and make them more forgiving,” said Jed Dutton, the company’s vice president for marketing.
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