Tourists and corporate chiefs shared champagne and chocolate cake Thursday to toast the inaugural flight of Delta’s new flight to Paris, giving Raleigh-Durham International Airport a second nonstop route across the Atlantic – and improved access to cities in Europe and beyond
The word of the day was “connectivity.”
“We’ve had the direct flight to London now for a while,” said Madhu Beriwal, CEO of IEM, a global security consulting firm based in Research Triangle Park. “But this flight to Paris provides us connectivity into mainland Europe and from there to Africa and to Asia.”
Delta’s last attempt at starting direct service to Paris was canceled a few weeks after it was announced in November 2008, squelched by the sudden recession. But there was plenty of optimism Thursday among travelers and guests at the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Gate C-15 in Terminal 2.
“While the new route connects the Triangle to the City of Light, more importantly it links the region to the world,” said Victoria Forbes-Roberts, a Delta vice president.
Michael Landguth, RDU’s president and CEO, said 1.5 million air travelers leave the Triangle for international destinations every year, half of them bound for Europe. He said the Paris flight will stimulate more foreign investment in the Triangle and North Carolina, and boost tourism traffic in both directions.
“This flight provides an opportunity for people in Europe to travel to North Carolina and see everything from the mountains to the ocean,” Landguth said. “And it also provides our citizens an opportunity to see Europe and the world.”
Beriwal and Bob Geolas, president of the Research Triangle Foundation, counted off the names of big companies that have major facilities in both the Triangle and Europe – IBM, Cisco, Syngenta, Research Triangle Institute and others – with clients and employees who do a lot of traveling between the two.
“This is all about connecting to the world,” Geolas said.
“At my company, we do work over in Asia,” Beriwal said. “We’re doing work in the Middle East. We’re doing work in other places, so it provides us that connectivity back into those areas.”
Marie-Claire Ribeill, who looks out for French interests as that nation’s Triangle-based honorary consul, said the new flight will bring new businesses to North Carolina.
“Every year I have two or three French businesses, small or medium-size, that want to come to North Carolina, and the flight will be an incredible boon for them,” Ribeill said.
Forbes-Roberts predicted the Paris-RDU flight will be popular.
“We are very confident in the demand for this new route,” Forbes-Robers said, moments before a ribbon-cutting. “Tonight, 160 passengers ... stand ready to make this historic journey. By the way there’s still four more seats left for sale, if anybody wants to go.”
Delta’s gate attendant made the boarding announcement at 4:45 p.m. – first in English, then in French.
RDU to CDG
The flights: Delta Flight 230 departs Raleigh-Durham (RDU) at 5:45 p.m., arrives Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) 8:10 a.m.
Delta Flight 231 departs CDG at 11:15 a.m., arrives RDU 2:31 p.m.
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200 with seats for 164 passengers
Fares: Vary with travel dates. The lowest available fares found in a News & Observer check for travel in May or June ranged from $1,293 to $3,086 per passenger, round-trip.
Nonstop connections from CDG: 75 cities in Europe, Africa and Asia
Estimated economic impact in the Triangle, according to an NCSU study: $25 million in the first year, $1.4 billion in 25 years