A direct daily flight between Kelowna and Los Angeles is no longer a case of California dreamin’.
United Airlines, through its United Express offshoot has started its long-awaited new year-round daily service between the two cities.
The first flight from LA was to arrive in Kelowna around 10 p.m. Tuesday night but a delay resulted in it not getting here until about 1 a.m. Wednesday. As a result, because of mandatory rest time for the crew, the return flight to LA did not leave Kelowna until around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, about 4.5 hours late.
The late arrival and departure was caused by what airport officials called operational delays. They expected Wednesday’s flight from LA to be on time.
Despite the glitch, a gathering at the airport Tuesday night were happy the service has finally started.
“This is an important milestone for YLW and the entire Okanagan,” said Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray. “This opens the doors for a greater business reach while giving the leisure traveller more opportunities to head south, as well as to bring those not from the Thompson Okanagan here to experience what our region has to offer.”
Politicians, business leaders and tourism officials from throughout the Thompson Okanagan gathered at the airport to celebrate the arrival of the inaugural United flight from Los Angeles Tuesday night.
The schedule calls for flights will arrive from LA at 10 p.m., having left around 6:30 p.m., from LAX and depart for Los Angeles from Kelowna at 8 a.m. the next morning.
LAX is the sixth busiest airport in the world and the third busiest in the U.S. LAX becomes the second U.S. hub airport with daily service to and from Kelonwa, joining Seattle’s SeaTac airport. There is also seasonal service with to and from Las Vegas and Phoenix.
The local airport is believed to be now be eying direct regular service to and from San Francisco.
During the gathering Tuesday night, political leaders representing the Thompson Okanagan praised the expanded air service and B.C.’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Mary Polak, who was also on hand, congratulated the locals who made it happen.
“And thank you to United Airlines for believing in Kelowna and B.C. as a great place to do business,” she said.
Airport director Sam Samaddar said the introduction of the daily flights between LA and Kelowna represent a huge economic impact to this region.
“On average, each daily flight to LA provides 16 person years of employment and $1 million in wages annually,” he said. “As the airport continues to provide air service to more destinations, the ripple effect of the economic benefit will be felt from Osoyoos to Sun Peaks to Revelstoke.”
Other speakers, such as Lane Merrifield, executive vice-president of Disney Interactive Worlds and co-founder of Club Penguin, as well as Anthony Lewis of Vibrant Vines Vineyard, spoke about the benefits the new United daily flights will present to the business community.
“The Vibrant Vine is a strong believer in that the whole is greater than the sum,” said Lewis. “Together we should focus on building and strengthening relationships within the wine, ski and golf industries. The only thing that can stand in the way of reviving an ongoing flood of Los Angeles tourists is if we don’t work together and properly market and package our products in a way that makes it easy to experience all that our amazing area has to offer.”
Many of the people who arrived from Los Angeles Tuesday were heading to Big White to ski. The mountain has been advertising itself in the southern California area in recent months in anticipation of the start of the direct flights from LA.
Kelowna’s airport is the ninth busiest in Canada, and has a total economic impact that includes 2,730 jobs and $610 million in total economic output to the province. Serving 1.4 million passengers in 2011, YLW offers 64 daily non-stop commercial flights by Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Central Mountain Air, Northwestern Air, WestJet and United Airlines to Vancouver, Victoria, Prince George, Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer, Toronto, Seattle, and now Los Angeles, There is also seasonal service to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, and Cancun; and sun destination charter services by Transat Holidays and Sunwing to Cancun, Puerto Vallarta and Los Cabos as well.