DOT announces long-distance Reagan airport flights included in FAA bill

By:  Keith Laing
Source: The Hill

The Department of Transportation on Monday announced new long-distance flights from Washington's Reagan National Airport.

Congress approved the new routes earlier this year in legislation to fund the Federal Aviation Administration. Reagan airport is heavily used by lawmakers, and legislators have been clamoring for more direct flights from there to West Coast destinations.

The DOT said Monday it had selected Alaska Airlines to provide service from the capital city to Portland, Ore., JetBlue Airways to fly to San Juan, Puerto Rico, Southwest Airlines to fly to Austin, Texas, and Virgin America Airlines to fly to San Francisco, Calif., as part of the 2012 FAA funding bill.

"These new flights will provide convenient nonstop service to our nation’s capital for travelers from four major cities,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

LaHood added that the flights would not just benefit people flying to the new destinations. “The flights will increase competition for airlines serving Washington, which can lead to lower fares for consumers,” he said.

The "slots," or authorization to operate flights, at Reagan airport and New York's LaGuardia Airport are regulated by the federal government, and they cannot be traded between airlines, unlike many other airports. The issue became one of many hold-ups in a fight over funding for the FAA that stretched from 2007 until 2012.

The resulting legislation that broke the impasse included a provision to allow large airlines that already fly into Reagan airport to trade one long-distance flight with another carrier for a shorter one.

As a result, DOT said Monday, American Airlines is trading a round-trip flight from Washington to Dallas for a flight to Los Angeles, Delta Airlines will trade a flight to LaGuardia for a round-trip flight to Salt Lake City, United Airlines will trade a flight to Chicago for a flight to San Francisco and US Airways will trade a flight to Dallas for a trip to San Diego.

Lawmakers in the affected West Coast cities praised the move for allowing their constituents to fly to the nation's capital, although many airlines already provided flights into other airports in the region like Dulles International and Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall.

“Southwest Washington and Greater Portland residents will now have direct access to their nation’s capital,” Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said in a statement.

“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," she continued. "That's one reason I fought hard in the FAA bill to increase Western flights to Washington, D.C. and urged DOT to strongly consider Alaska Airlines’ bid to provide the first nonstop service from Portland.”