New flight can spur convention, air service

John Checketts, director of route planning for JetBlue Airlines, had to take the long way to get to Reno from New York last weekend.

Checketts caught a flight from New York City to Salt Lake City before eventually landing in Reno, and his return trip took even longer after a stop in San Francisco.

Beginning in late May, though, he’ll be able to fly non-stop from New York’s JFK International Airport when JetBlue begins daily non-stop service to and from Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

JetBlue last week announced it will begin service to Reno from New York City on May 28. The flight is scheduled to depart New York City at 7:40 p.m. and arrive in Reno at 11:07 p.m. The red-eye flight departs Reno at 11:59 p.m. and arrives at 8:09 a.m. the following day. JetBlue will use a narrow-body Airbus A320 plane that can seat 150 passengers.

Chris Baum, president and chief executive officer of the Reno Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, says the announcement could spur new convention business to Greater Reno Tahoe from groups who previously shied away from considering this destination due to its travel limitations.

“Right now, Chicago is as far east as you can go non-stop,” Baum says. “A lot of trade associations have heavy East Coast membership, and if a group has no direct service it’s a real hit against your destination. A lot of meeting planners won’t look at you until you can deliver non-stop service. It’s an incredible boost to this destination — it’s puts us on the radar of every major airline.”

JetBlue was heavily courted by regional airport, hotel, gaming, recreation and tourism executives, but the new route to Reno also follows recent additions by New York-based JetBlue Airlines to service Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Portland. RTIA president and chief executive officer Marily Moya says the airport had been seeking a direct flight to New York since 2000, but discussions really picked up in mid summer of 2013.

The flight provides much easier access for Reno residents to the nation’s financial epicenter, as well as gives easy access to northern Nevada for Wall Street financial executives and East Coast vacationers.

“We think we are going to have a lot of people coming on that JetBlue flight to get to know our community,” Moya said last week at a press conference announcing the flight.

Moya says Baum spearheaded efforts by the Reno-Tahoe Regional Air Service Committee to woo JetBlue to establish service to Reno. The new flight route comes with a risk mitigation guarantee if passenger loads aren’t met — at least in the early going. JetBlue’s Checketts says the risk mitigation component of the deal is only expected to be in place until the flight loads become self-sustaining.

“At any given time we are evaluating five to 25 markets, and Reno has been on that list, especially the last year-and-a-half,” Checketts says. “The product offering that Reno has with the ski destination and Lake Tahoe for the warm months, combined with gaming and night life, we don’t have that combination anywhere else.

“We only look for destinations that can stand on their own two feet. This is not about profiting off the business community, it’s about finding a strong customer base to generate a profitable service to the airline as well as the industry.”

The Reno-Tahoe Regional Air Service Committee, a partnership of resort owners and destination partners in Greater Reno-Tahoe and northern California who contribute to a fund to help establish new flights and support existing service to the region to spur tourism and gaming revenue.

“We step up each year and write a check that goes into an account of over a half-million dollars,” Baum says. “Something as big as New York required a bit more funds to make it happen.

“JetBlue knows there is demand on a daily from hundreds of people between New York and Reno, but for years you’ve had to make a connection,” Baum adds. “In the first year it’s as much getting the word out as establishing service. It’s a busy marketplace, and breaking through with word that you can fly non-stop from JFK to Reno is going to take time. It’s not going to be 100 percent on Day 1.”

The announcement by JetBlue follows similar news from Volaris and Thomas Cook Airlines to establish international routes to Guadalajara, Mexico and London, respectively.

Andy Wirth, vice chair of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority board of trustees, says adding a key East Coast city such as New York is a crucial step in further developing additional air service to northern Nevada.

“The advent of a non-stop flight is probably the single-most important air service announcement we could make,” he says. “New York City is the financial epicenter of the world. This flight, coupled with the Tesla announcement, my phone is already blowing up. It’s truly a fundamental shift in how people see our region.”


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