Triangle business and vacation travelers will have two daily nonstop flights to the West Coast when American Airlines inaugurates a new flight to Los Angeles in the spring.
American last week quietly announced the new flight between Raleigh-Durham International Airport and LAX, to start April 2. With a year-round, seven-days-a-week schedule, it’s a step up from the thrice-weekly nonstop Delta offers to Los Angeles during warm months.
The LAX announcement by American comes on the heels of a United Airlines nonstop to San Francisco, which began service in August.
“As our area continues to grow, there’s obviously more demand for West Coast flights, and I’m very pleased to see the carriers acknowledge that,” said Harvey Schmitt, president and CEO of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce.
RDU says about 400 people make the trip each day between the Triangle and Los Angeles on flights that can arrive several hours sooner if there are no stops along the way.
American’s parent company has struggled with labor issues and layoffs this year as it tries to work its way out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and moves toward a possible merger with US Airways. RDU officials have lobbied for an LAX nonstop over the past few years, but they weren’t expecting news last week that they would finally get their wish.
“It was a little bit of a surprise to us,” said Teresa Damiano, RDU marketing director. “We hadn’t spoken with American recently.” LAX was American’s only U.S. hub airport without a nonstop link to RDU, she said.
Delta has canceled and restarted its LAX service a few times over the past decade, and its off-hours flight schedule is not popular. The departing jet leaves RDU after 7:30 p.m. and lands about 10 p.m. Pacific time, and the return jet is a grueling red-eye: leaving LAX at 10:30 p.m. and arriving at RDU before 6:30 a.m. the next day.
Some travelers will find the American schedule more appealing. It leaves RDU more than two hours earlier than the Delta flight and makes the return trip during daylight hours, landing at RDU at 4:20 p.m. The American Airlines round-trip fare posted online Wednesday was $220.
“With two LAX flights and the San Francisco flight, I think this is the largest amount of West Coast service we’ve had here,” Damiano said.
About 800 people fly between RDU and the San Francisco Bay Area each day, and United’s San Francisco flight drew cheers this summer from business and government leaders. It boasts a schedule that allows travelers to leave the east coast in the morning and arrive in time for lunch in the Bay Area.
Joe Milazzo II, who heads a nonprofit business group that lobbies for transportation improvements, called the San Francisco flight the most important news at RDU since the arrival of Southwest Airlines in 1999 and the opening of Terminal 2 in 2008 and 2011. He said the American Airlines nonstop to Los Angeles will be good for the Triangle, too.
“That is a strong commitment to transcontinental air travel out of this market,” Milazzo said.
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