As they boarded the inaugural flight of a United Airlines nonstop jet from Raleigh-Durham International Airport to San Francisco on Wednesday morning, Triangle travelers thought about the airports they would avoid – for a change – on their trip to the West Coast.
“This is great,” said Joe Freddoso, president of MCNC, a Triangle-based technology nonprofit. “I love Dallas-Fort Worth, but I like overflying it, too.”
Thirteen-year-old Jacob Trubey of Cary was about to fly on his own, for the first time.
“His aunt’s been after him since fourth grade to come out there to San Francisco,” said his mother, Laura. But she had never been comfortable with the idea of Jacob changing planes in some big airport between here and there.
“The fact that I can bring him here and she can pick him up there makes it a lot easier,” Trubey said.
RDU has struggled for years to establish a nonstop link to the West Coast.
United expressed interest in a San Francisco flight in 2000. Midway Airlines tried nonstops to Los Angeles and San Jose between 1997 and 2001.Delta flies to Los Angeles three evenings a week during the warmer months, with a service that has switched on and off several times since 2008.
The new United flight gets business travelers to the San Francisco Bay area before lunchtime.
“It’s a substantial difference, because time is critical,” said Peter Bourne, president of Durham-based Spring Metrics, a startup software firm with 10 employees. “The ability to get out there and still get in a full day of business, opposed to spending the entire day in the Chicago airport or Dulles, is super.”
Bourne said he’ll be meeting with investors and prospective partners in the Bay area.
Gov. Bev Perdue led an economic development delegation to San Francisco, and she will host business executives and investors at a reception Thursday night. Before she boarded the flight Wednesday morning, she recalled a West Coast meeting 18 months ago, where venture capital fund managers complained that traveling to RDU was too much trouble.
“They said, ‘You know, we’ve got a better way to spend our week,’” Perdue said. “‘And unless you all can adapt to our culture, unless you can figure out a way to get us from here to there in a day, then we’re not going to be as interested in North Carolina.’”
Cisco Systems, which has 5,000 workers in Research Triangle Park, is the biggest Triangle employer with a home base in the Bay area. Glenn Schleicher, a senior technical services director for Cisco, makes the California trip six or seven times a year.
He’ll be making a presentation at a panel discussion Thursday morning at corporate headquarters in San Jose.
“I’ve been at Cisco coming up on 20 years, and it’s always been a pain to get to San Jose via a connection,” Schleicher said, holding his boarding pass and carry-on bag. “This cuts the trip from a multihop ordeal to a direct flight.”
Also on board Wednesday was a Colorado man who is something of a semi-professional air traveler.
Daniel Palen publishes travel tips in the “Friendly Skies” blog at upgrd.com, and he says he logs 250,000 air miles a year. He flew from his Denver home to San Francisco on Tuesday to catch United’s first nonstop to RDU Tuesday afternoon.
“They had a little gate party and some cake,” Palen said. “And a poster we had everyone sign.”
He flew into RDU Tuesday evening, slept a few hours at an airport hotel, and was back in Terminal 2 at 6 a.m. Wednesday for the return trip.
“Just to earn the miles,” Palen said. United travelers get credit for 2,400 miles each way.
“It was the inaugural flight. The fares were decent. And I thought: Why not? It’s a pretty good flight, pretty convenient,” Palen said.
United uses a Boeing 737-800, which seats 152 passengers, for its San Francisco flight. Mark Arrington, United Airlines sales manager, said at least 10 flights over the next two weeks are already sold out.
Airport researchers say about 800 travelers fly between RDU and the Bay area each day.
“So I’m confident we can keep this thing full,” said Terry Yeargan, the RDU Airport Authority chairman.
Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/