RDU loses two nonstops to the West Coast, but hopes to persuade airlines to add more

RDU is losing two nonstop connections to California airports: Alaska Airlines to San Francisco and Frontier to San Diego.
RDU is losing two nonstop connections to California airports: Alaska Airlines to San Francisco and Frontier to San Diego. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Alaska Airlines will end its nonstop service between the Triangle and San Francisco early next week, leaving United as the only carrier to fly without stopping between the two airports.

Alaska becomes the second airline to cease a nonstop flight between Raleigh-Durham International Airport and the West Coast this fall. In September, Frontier Airlines suspended its twice-weekly flights to San Diego a little more than a year after they began, but may bring them back next year.

The Triangle has long coveted — and struggled to keep — nonstop flights to the West Coast. Frontier was the only airline flying direct to San Diego, which RDU president Michael Landguth described last year as the “top unserved nonstop destination” from the Triangle.

In addition to United’s flights to San Francisco, other West Coast nonstops from RDU include Southwest to San Jose, Delta and American to Los Angeles and Alaska to its hub in Seattle.

Alaska began flying daily nonstops between RDU and San Francisco in October 2017, part of a larger expansion from the Bay Area following the airline’s acquisition of Virgin America. Initially, the RDU flight was on Virgin America, until Alaska retired the brand in the spring of 2018.

Alaska spokesman Ray Lane said the decision to end the San Francisco flights was made as part of a schedule adjustment in September. The last flights will be Nov. 4.

“Our goal is to make the most efficient use of our resources to match the demand of our guests — flying them where they want to go, when they want to go there,” Lane wrote in an email. He said there will be no change to the Seattle service from RDU.

Frontier, meanwhile, aims to attract leisure travelers, with low fares and flights on select days of the week, and frequently adjusts its schedule based on demand or the season. Spokesman Zach Kramer said the airline is “evaluating a resumption date in 2020” for the flights between RDU and San Diego.

RDU spokeswoman Stephanie Hawco said much of the demand for flights between the Triangle and San Diego comes from business travelers, “who fly when they need to fly.”

“RDU will shift its focus to San Diego service that can be provided on a daily basis rather than operating on a more limited schedule,” Hawco wrote in an email.

As for the Bay Area, Hawco said nearly a quarter of RDU passengers flying to and from the region use airports in Oakland and San Jose, often with connecting flights. With United providing two daily flights to San Francisco, she said, RDU’s next move will be to persuade a carrier to provide nonstop service to one of the other two airports.

“We see this as an opportunity to diversify service to the Bay Area by targeting a carrier to fly to one of the area’s other convenient airports,” she wrote.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.