The new non-stop Delta Air Lines flight to Paris, France from Raleigh-Durham International Airport took off without a hitch Thursday night.
Community and business leaders celebrated along with Delta staff. They say the Paris flight is a sign North Carolina’s economy has rebounded since the recession, and is growing.
The Delta Air Lines, RDU, Paris party consumed at least four gates. There were balloons, sweets from Cary’s La Farm Bakery and lots of pictures. But the real action was at gate C-15 as passengers prepared to board their flight to Paris.
“Just a few quick reminders that you need to know before boarding your flight to Paris, everyone will need their passports out and open to the picture page," said Delta staff, followed by a message in French.
The Boeing 757-200 holds 164 passengers.
“By the way there’s still four more seats left for sale if anyone wants to go!” said Victoria Forbes-Roberts during the celebratory kick-off.
Victoria Forbes-Roberts is the Vice President of Pricing and Revenue Management at Delta Air Lines. She says when Delta tried to bring a non-stop Paris flight to RDU in 2008, the Recession got in the way. Forbes-Roberts says the region has grown since then and demand is high.
“When we were studying where the opportunities were for Delta, Raleigh-Durham showed as the top corporate opportunity for service to Europe that we weren’t already serving non-stop," said Forbes-Roberts.
Another reason Delta says it favored the Triangle region for the Paris flight is because of all the community and business support.
Bob Geolas is President and CEO of the Research Triangle Foundation. He helped bring together the cities of Raleigh and Durham and several business leaders to raise a quick $1.1 million in support of the flight, which he says is important to Research Triangle Park.
“We have partners around the world, clients around the world, companies around the world and just good old fashioned people who want to travel to Paris and want to travel to Raleigh Durham," said Geolas.
The Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority came up with another $1.25 million in fee waivers, plus $500,000 for marketing the flight.
Michael Landguth is President and CEO of the authority. He says Delta is putting a lot on the line.
“To put that aircraft in here, they’ve got about $75 million at risk for one year of flight. They’ve got a significant investment," said Landguth.
"We’ve got a small piece of what we call risk mitigation, but it’s our way of telling Delta, we’re committed to make this successful for you and by doing that it makes us successful in our community because we can really compete on a global economy by having connectivity out of RDU.”
Many of the travelers on this Paris flight are likely business travelers. But their final destination is not Paris.
Gil Przybylaski works for Comfort Control and is on his way to Oslo, Norway.
“Usually when we fly to Europe, I have to go either to Dulles or New York and this is convenient, just to come here from Cary," said Przybylaski.
And then there were travelers just trying to get home to see family, like Catherine Skura, she lives in Moore County and goes to France every year.
"I love it. I don’t have to fly through Toronto or through Atlanta before finally getting to Charles de Gaulle," said Skura. "And at Charles de Gaulle, my family is actually in the same department, so they only have an hour drive to come and pick me up. So I really appreciate, I hope it makes it.”
A lot of people hope this flight makes it. Before leaving RDU, firefighters sprayed the Delta plane with an arch of water, a "Water Cannon Salute." It's common for inaugural flights.
American Airlines used to fly a non-stop from RDU to Paris some 20 years ago. But that ended, and turned into the daily flight to London that’s still leaves like clock-work, seven days a week.
So that’s two, daily, trans-Atlantic non-stop flights and four international flights total, if you include Toronto and Cancun. Not bad for an airport this size.