Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport is getting a new airline, the Department of Transportation announced today. Virgin America plans to begin once a day non-stop service to their hub, San Francisco International Airport, by late summer.
"We are pleased to have the opportunity to bring our unique brand of service to this underserved route - and to better connect one of the world's leading economies to our nation's capital," said David Cush, President and CEO of Virgin America. "Until this year, San Francisco has been the largest travel market in the nation previously without nonstop flights to DCA, and local travelers and businesses deserved better."
But the hip, low airfare upstart airline will face competition on the route as United is also planning once-a-day nonstop service to San Francisco out of Reagan. The new flights are part of the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which created eight new 'slot exemptions' allowing airlines to fly beyond the 1,250-mile limit at the airport.
In addition to Virgin's Reagan debut, Alaska Airlines will gain a daily nonstop flight to Portland. Southwest Airlines, whose subsidiary AirTran already operates out of DCA, was awarded a nonstop to Austin, Texas, and JetBlue will begin service to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Southwest finally to make DCA debut
Sometime this summer, travelers will start seeing the blue and red 737's of Southwest Airlines taxiing to a gate at DCA. The newly awarded non-stop to Austin will be "bright new spot on our route map," Southwest spokesperson Whitney Eichinger told ABC 7 News by email. "We are thrilled!!!"
JetBlue also expects to begin its new service this fall, and will allow customers to connect through San Juan to the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic. It's planning to further expand its offerings from Reagan with additional flights Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, as well as a new nonstop to Tampa.
The Pacific Northwest
The Alaska Airlines nonstop to Portland comes after lobbying by Oregon's congressional delegation and 13,000 people who sent letters to the Department of Transportation seeking the route. It will be the only nonstop between Portland and Reagan National Airport.
The airline says the first of its 737's will be wheels up from the nation's capital to Rose City by September 8.
"Providing residents of the greater Portland area with convenient nonstop service to the closest airport to our nation's capital has been a priority for us for a long time and we're delighted this day has come," said Brad Tilden, Alaska Air Group's chief executive officer-elect in a company release. "We thank the DOT for their vote of confidence in Alaska Airlines."
Senators from Oregon, and Washington State praised the decision.
"This direct flight will support business growth and jobs in Southwest Washington and Oregon, and it will make the Pacific Northwest more accessible and attractive to East Coast businesses and tourists," said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
Alaska Airlines is based in Seattle, and along with its regional carrier subsidiary Horizon Air, serves 90 cities in the US, Canada and Mexico.
Expanded service for more airlines
"Today's award by the Department of Transportation further underscores that despite being a small player at Reagan National, JetBlue has quickly been able to stimulate traffic, lower fares, and garner significant support in the capital region for our unique brand of customer service" said Rob Land, senior vice president of government affairs and associate general counsel at JetBlue.
The four airlines announced today were selected because they had limited or no service at DCA.
"These new flights will provide convenient nonstop service to our nation's capital for travels from four major cities," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "The flights will increase competition for airlines serving Washington, which can lead to lower fares for consumers."
More long hauls for legacy carriers
The nation's four largest carriers - United, American, Delta, and U.S. Airways - were allowed to trade a shorter route for one of the long-haul exemptions. United is giving up a Chicago-O'Hare run to compete with Virgin America on the San Francisco route, American will switch a daily flight to Dallas for Los Angeles, Delta elected to replace a flight to New York-LaGuardia Airport with a second nonstop to its Salt Lake City hub, and U.S. Airways will drop a flight to Dallas in favor of a daily nonstop to San Diego.
Congress created "slot exemptions" at Reagan National in 2000, previously allowing 12 such longer-haul daily nonstop flights to Los Angeles, Seattle, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Denver.
As for DCA's newest airline, San Francisco-based Virgin America launched in 2007 and flies to San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Washington Dulles, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Diego, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Dallas, Palm Springs, Philadelphia, and three destinations in Mexico - Los Cabos, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. In addition to the new Washington D.C. service, Virgin America is adding Portland next month.