the Big Apple and the Biggest Little City are now connected said Marily Mora, president and CEO of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority.
On May 28, JetBlue Airlines landed its inaugural flight to Reno, coming from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, and arriving to a celebration that JetBlue executives have now named in their Top 5 of inaugural receptions.
With 400 airports all vying for the same flights, according to Brian Kulpin, vice president/marketing and public affairs for the airport, it took a regional effort to attract JetBlue, along with data to support the viability of a new flight.
“An airline wants community support when they go to a new market,” Mora said in a recent telephone interview.
Officials put together a partnership with organizations in Tahoe and Reno including hotels, ski resorts, gaming, government, tourism and the airport authority.
“At the meeting with JetBlue, they got the (data) information and saw the community spirit behind our effort,” she said.
“It was a very powerful thing and it helped set us apart from other communities,” Kulpin said.
JetBlue officials made a one-year commitment to RTIA of one, non-stop, round-trip flight daily during the summer and winter tourism seasons and four-times a week in spring and fall.
The inaugural flight landed at 9:40 p.m. May 28 and Reno rolled out the VIP carpet for passengers, crew and dignitaries.
The non-stop landing was greeted with a traditional water arch — lit blue for the airline — sprayed from two airport fire trucks. Flight passengers received Reno-Tahoe goody bags and a reception at the baggage claim with Nu Yalk Pizza, beverages, cake and treats. The area was decorated with a New York theme. The Reno Jazz Orchestra entertained, with New York and Broadway hits, and VIPs made speeches against the backdrop of an NYC skyline.
“I’m the luckiest mayor in the entire world, when we blend Reno and New York,” Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve said before taking a selfie with the crowd to post on Twitter. She was part of the Reno delegation to fly the inaugural flight. “Tell all your friends. Keep the momentum; keep it going.”
Olympic freestyle skier and gold medalist Jonny Moseley was also on board as a representative of Squaw Valley USA.
Moseley talked to the crowd about how hard it has been for New Yorkers to fly past Colorado and Utah to ski at Lake Tahoe.
“Now the timing is perfect, and we’re going to welcome everyone from the East Coast non-stop,” he said. “They have no excuse (not) to fly over Colorado and hang out with us.”
Also on board was Jeff Martin, senior vice president/operations of JetBlue, who commended the Reno-Tahoe partners for its welcoming reception.
“I’ve done a lot of inaugural flights. You’ve done it in great style,” Martin said.
“I think when you … tie the destination of Reno-Tahoe with the city of New York, it was an obvious partnership for us, and today couldn’t have gone better.”
There’s “a lot of excitement and a lot of energy,” he said. “We’re just really proud to be here.”
“This (inaugural) flight shows us what we can do when we work as one,” Mora said at the reception.
The JetBlue JFK to Reno-Tahoe connection has been a long time in development. Reno officials and former airport authority CEO Chris Baum began testing the JetBlue waters 15 years ago.
“Often discussions with airlines take that long,” Mora said. “Discussions with JetBlue began prior to 9-11. The serious part was the last two years.”
“New York has been our top underserved market,” she said. “This is something this community wanted.”
And JetBlue is a significant airline to attract. It has been honored by JD Powers & Associates for its customer service for the past 11 years in a row.
“Jet Blue is a great partner, investing in the communities they serve,” Mora said.
Even before its inaugural flight, the airline began involvement through book donations to schools, support of the Nevada Women’s Fund and the Nevada Food Bank.
“They come into a community, and plan to be part of the community. They’re investing in our community,” she said. “We really want the community to support them as well.”
So far, bookings “look really good,” she said.
“Once we get the flights here, then it’s the community’s job to sell the (tickets),” Kulpin said.