Yeager Airport dancing Texas 2-step
DALLAS -- American Airlines passengers, a few wearing cowboy boots and several with West Virginia roots, filled the first direct flight from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport to Yeager Airport Wednesday afternoon.
The airline announced in March that it would offer nonstop jet service between the Charleston airport and Dallas.
Lewisburg resident Sharon Meador said the new nonstop flight -- which was about 2 hours and 15 minutes long on Wednesday -- will let her spend more time with her family in Arkansas and less time traveling.
Meador sat near the back of the 50-seat Bombardier CRJ-200 on Flight 2518, which left Dallas at 1:05 p.m. She didn't even know about the nonstop flight to Charleston until she arrived at the Texas airport.
She's been traveling to Arkansas for 10 years to visit her daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, and said the direct flight to Dallas/Fort Worth is ideal.
"This will be great because the flight from northwest Arkansas to Dallas is a lot shorter and it cuts my traveling time down," Meador said. "It will be really nice because I will get to spend more time with my family."
American Airlines' daily flight from Dallas to Charleston will leave at 1:05 p.m. and arrive in Charleston at 4:30 p.m. The return flight will leave Yeager Airport at 5 p.m. and arrive in Dallas at 6:30 p.m.
The flights are provided by American Eagle, a subsidiary of American Airlines.
The airline hosted four inaugural celebrations at the Dallas airport throughout Wednesday to launch the nonstop flights from its largest and primary hub to Zacatecas, Mexico; Hermosillo, Mexico; Aspen, Colo.; and Charleston.
Yeager Airport Director Rick Atkinson cut the red ribbon at the B25 concourse as American Airlines officials cheered and passengers snacked on cupcakes surrounded by red and blue balloons. Passengers who were American Airlines miles members got 500 bonus miles for flying to Charleston on Wednesday.
A crowd of about 50 people at Yeager welcomed the first flight as it landed in the state's capital a few minutes before its 4:30 p.m. scheduled arrival.
Two fire trucks, one on each side of the American airplane, arched water cannons toward the plane as it wheeled toward the gate.
Yeager officials greeted passengers inside the airport with Texas-style barbecue sandwiches and a large cake.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller said through his spokesman that he is "extremely pleased" that Yeager has added another travel destination for West Virginians.
He said the direct flight will be good for business.
"This new flight will also improve our local economy, as more businesses from the Southwest will now have an easy access to the capital city," Rockefeller said in his statement.
Dale Morris, regional vice president of governmental affairs for American Eagle in Dallas, said the nonstop flight will offer opportunities to both cities.
Dallas continues to be a major economic engine and Charleston can now benefit from that, and vice versa, Morris said.
"The addition of Charleston to DFW will open so many options going west and international," Morris said. "Charleston is a key economic city that provides a good base of business and leisure traffic."
Atkinson said people would be more likely to travel to the Mountain State for business now that there is a direct flight.
"It saves time, and sometimes there's a hassle factor that business people will say it's too hard to get here to do business," Atkinson said. "When you make it easier for people to travel, they will travel more."
The tie to Dallas will benefit the energy industry, Atkinson said.
"It will be a big help for the oil and gas industry because of the expertise that's in the Dallas area," Atkinson said, "and also the [flight] connections in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, where the headquarters of natural gas companies are."
West Virginia University sports fans now have access to all universities that are part of the Big 12 Conference, Yeager spokesman Brian Belcher said.
Susan Chernenko, director of the state Aeronautics Commission, said she and her husband are Mountaineer fans who are looking forward to traveling to the Big 12 games through Dallas.
Chernenko said it will help boost tourism in the state, too.
"This is terribly exciting for the state and a huge opportunity for business and leisure travelers," Chernenko said at the Yeager celebration. "To bring those folks from Dallas here to West Virginia who may not have come before is good for the state and businesses."
The new flight will help bring staff from the Boy Scouts of America -- which is headquartered in Irving, near the Texas airport -- to West Virginia, who will be "using it all the time," Belcher said.
The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Fayette County will host the 2013 National Scout Jamboree in July. The 10-day event is expected to bring more than 40,000 Scouts and another 200,000 tourists to the area.
Atkinson said he met a Boy Scouts official in Dallas on Wednesday who expressed his happiness for the direct flight to Charleston.
American Airlines announced its Charleston to Dallas direct flight one month after it said it would merge with US Airways.
The $11 billion merger will form the world's largest airline. The company will operate under American Airlines name and will be based at American's headquarters in Fort Worth.
Atkinson said the merger makes for a stronger company with more opportunities.
The merged company will be about the same size as its competitors United and Delta, which is good for business, he said.
"We will have three competitors about the same size in the market, and that's important because people wanting to do business in West Virginia will have options of three alliances," Atkinson said. "Not very many communities our size will have that."
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